Some answers to a doctor’s questions about Powerpoint presentations
Q. What is the most common mistake made in medical/scientific presentations/PowerPoint slides?
A. Using slides as no more than a text which is read while the slide is up on the screen. This is both lazy and an insult to the audience, (who may be reading it faster than the presenter, and thus be confused), but most of all it’s bad because the presenter is throwing away a chance to use VISUALS to help explain his/her points, while a separate commentary is spoken. The audience is thus using their eyes and ears to understand the facts presented, rather than just having a huge projected text read to them.
This said, some slides will need to be text; the mistake here is that there is often far too much text used: forget the “rules” that Powerpoint tutorials give you about the number of bullet points you can fit onto a slide. Make more slides and put fewer points on them, if you must, but first think about what the audience can actually take in (and keep in). If you have a very complex presentation, consider having copies made of the text (NOT the slides) to handout to everyone, but then make the slides simpler, to fit the time you have to make the presentation, and to fit the amount of stuff an audience can absorb at a conference or other presentation.
Q. What advice can you give presenters whose core competency does NOT include computer graphics and related software?
A. Don’t worry about the computer; just be a human being telling a story. if there are some images (or simple text points ) you want to show, then do that, but don’t think that it’s necessary to have a slide up on the screen at every moment. when I lecture, I put lots of blank spaces in the powerpoint file, and at those times I’m just talking. this concentrates the audience on what you want to say, and eliminates distractions. It also makes the audience see the benefit of the visuals, when they are there. visuals must have VALUE, not decoration, (or cheap tricks that come with the powerpoint program, and which too many speakers rely on.)
You might also consider using an old fashioned blackboard or flip chart for some of the visuals; to my mind, there is huge value and human drama in seeing something being written live–almost performed– (as opposed to set in type on a screen). Overhead projections on the other hand seem wrong these days, they come off badly compared to the slickness of powerpoint.
Q. Are there simple rules that physicians/scientists can follow to avoid losing their audience?
A. First, know the level of comprehension in the audience; if you can’t really understand something, your mind will wander off to something it can understand (such as how cold or hot or uncomfortable or hungry it is)
Second, use humor if it comes naturally to you to do so. Not telling jokes, but lightening up, and being a little self-deprecating, perhaps. I’m sure that some of your medical topics are really serious, and I don’t mean that you should trivialize them, but there is a manner of delivery which can make any subject approachable, I think. In my work, I show mistakes I’ve made as well as successes, and that seems to let people know that I’m just like them, not some superior lecturer talking down from the pulpit.
Q. Are there any sources of reference or resources that we can turn to for assistance?
A. Most of the stuff I’ve seen is not good (articles on how to present, and so on) but I tend to shy away from that kind of advice anyway, so there may be some good articles that I’ve missed. I believe that some people are naturally good presenters and some are not. Powerpoint isn’t going to help the poor ones at all. I’ll bet that’s as true of doctors as it is of designers!
My “secret” is rehearsal. I go through the stuff again and again so that when I’m presenting I have no surprises…I know what’s coming next (don’t wait to see what’s on the screen), and as I said, I pace the presentation: sometimes with just visuals and no words, and sometimes just words and no visuals. I treat a presentation almost as theater: you have sound, movement, pictures…