Your first slide is crucial. Cru. cial.
Your first slide establishes your presentation’s identity and even if you only fire up a projector three times a semester or present at only one conference, your presentation needs an identity. If you plan on presenting your lessons every day for a year (as has been my m.o.) this is quintuply important.
The reason is simply this: you don’t want your audience distracted by what your presentation looks like at the expense of what it’s about. No matter what my slides are about, they share a similar look.
This is priceless. In a matter of days, my students forget that the body text (Tahoma) looks different from problem information text (Gill Sans). They could tell you that the slide backgrounds are light blue but they forget that I use a gradient. I set problem answers to a darker shade of the background blue, but after a week, the look of the slide becomes so transparent, half the class would tell you it’s black. They never noticed the line breaks (always 10 points) or the reliable indentation (headers always 12% off the side; body text 3% more) or a dozen other elements I painstakingly built into the template with the express intention of rendering them totally, and completely, invisible.
All that work on the front-end has no immediate benefit. In fact, it makes things harder. Once your look becomes transparent, you’ve got a problem, because, see, then your presentation had better be about something. After your style fully recedes into the projector screen, you’d better have substance in spades. By example, it is much harder to create engaging content than it is to throw a sound effect or a spinning transition into your slide design. It’s also a helluva more satisfying for the designer and the audience.
A visual description of the difference:
The term here is signal-to-noise ratio. These slide decks had the exact same signal, but which was noisier?
And I was pretty fair to the noisier slides. I only kept the background gradient shifting but if I did justice to the majority of classroom PowerPoint lessons I would’ve had the text shifting font, color, and position. I would’ve switched between one- and two-column layouts at will. I would’ve inserted clip art. I would’ve used a wacky twirl to usher in new bullet points and move between slides.
I realize that those PowerPoint gewgaws seem cute and that the students seem to enjoy them. They are and they do. But cute wears off within a month and then any effort you put into the look of your slides is effort siphoned away from what your slides are about.
All this is to say that as you develop your template keep a close eye on consistency.
- Choose a background. Gradients are hot right now. Light ones. Dark ones.
With my next presentation I want to play around with some of Squidfingers’ patterns.
Just don’t let your background call attention to itself, a lÃ 90% of PowerPoint’s prepackaged offerings. For this reason, and for some contrast issues, photo backgrounds are a no-no. (Unless you’re willing to play hardball with the negative space, which is a different tutorial.)
- Choose your fonts. Run back to your blog first and perform a quick font count. Two? Three of them tops, right? They’re onto something. Do not get all fontacular here. Choose sans serif. Those tiny Curlz don’t show up well in screen pixels. Choose contrast. Choose 18 points or higher.
If you ever have to drop below 18 points, odds are good that your point could be more concisely written or that you should speak more, forcing your audience to read less.Do not choose Comic Sans. Please do not ask why. Any explanation past “it’s overused by teachers” gets annoyingly technical and kind of arbitrary.
- Choose your colors. Dark colors for a light background. Light for dark. Mid-range colors are tough on the eyes but a lot of designers are throwing 5% gray on a black background rather than pure white. Choose a second color for special occasions. A slightly more saturated (purer) version of your background color.
- Choose your transitions. Or better yet, don’t. Mosaics, spinning cubes, etc., artifically inflate visual interest, which is a bubble that’s bound to burst. (see previous post on wipes)
- Choose your sound effects. See “Choose your transitions.”
At some point halfway through these guidelines, you may lose the point, chalk this up as too picky, and move along. So if the purpose of sturdy, unfussy design has become wobbly and fussy, then once again:
Good design decreases conceptual resistance in the same way that clear speech is preferable to slurry, drunken rambling and, like an earthmover, good design collapses the distance between Knowing and Not Knowing. Good design is good for anyone but it’s particularly good for educators.