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Microsoft PowerPoint for Research Presentations: Best Practices

 

Kathryn Muehlberger, Client Communications Specialist

August 2021



Have you ever been tasked to create a PowerPoint presentation for your research but have no idea where to start? Should I include sound or animations? Are images better than text? How do I add a voiceover? Don’t worry, you’re not alone—these are common thoughts of scientists, regardless of discipline or career level. Below, we provide insight into best practices for creating a simple, yet captivating PowerPoint presentation for your future research presentations.

Getting Started – Slide Design & Size

When you open PowerPoint, you should first decide on your slide size. Consider what would look the best with the materials you have, and if there are size restrictions related to the presentation you are preparing. You can edit the slide size using the ‘Design’ tab. We recommend choosing the pre-set Widescreen or Standard size. Once you select your slide size, there are endless options for slide designs. PowerPoint has built-in presets or “templates” to choose from. Feel free to pick a design that best matches your topic, or alternatively you can customize the slide design via the ‘Design’ tab. Often times, simple is better.

Once you select your design and color palette, it is time to start adding content to your slides. The first slide is typically devoted to the title of your presentation, but you want to ensure you make a statement to grab the attention of your audience. Remember, if you are using a preset PowerPoint template, you can customize (or remove) any preset text boxes. To do this, click on the text box and resize, change the font, delete, or move to another location on the slide.

Organizing Content for Your Slides

Importantly, for each of your slides that contains content, less is more. We recommend utilizing bullet points to convey concise, take home messages instead of long paragraphs. Your PowerPoint presentation is merely a visual of your research for your audience; it is thus recommended to have a different script for yourself during the presentation, separate from the text presented on the slides. In other words, your PowerPoint slides should provide a summary of your personal script. Also, try to keep to 3-4 bullet points per slide, and use an appropriate font size depending on the setting of your presentation (i.e., projected on a large screen vs. presenting via a laptop or desktop). Font sizes between 18 pt and 32 pt are considered optimal for a viewing experience. Keeping the text aligned left is also good practice.

Adding Images, Figures & Text

In addition to text, images or figures are essential components of a PowerPoint presentation. What images do you want to accompany your text slides? If your presentation has complex graphs or plots, detailed photographs, or large figures, those visuals may look better on a separate slide with only a title and/or a short caption. You can also include small graphics, such as icons, which can be added by going to the ‘Insert’ tab and then clicking ‘Icons’.

Visual Effects & Animations

When it comes to visual effects, it is important to keep it simple, especially since effects can become visually distracting for viewers or may take away from the presentation content itself. It is easy to get carried away and add several sounds, object animations, and slide transitions. However, subtle effects or animations are sometimes necessary to highlight your main points. We recommend having one or two effects per slide maximum. The focus of your presentation should be the content and adding several effects does not necessarily improve your communication to your audience.

We understand the options can be overwhelming but remember, less is more. By adding a few simple effects and referencing our tips, you can add more excitement and clarity to your next PowerPoint presentation.

Lastly, we offer a free, downloadable template that recaps our best practices mentioned in this article.

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