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4 Tips for Creating Great Slides With Titles & Bullets

Teach the WordDr. Sue Holtz is our feature article author this month. Dr. Holtz serves as the director of technology integration and support at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, the seminary of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. She received her doctorate in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service from Cardinal Stritch University in 2004. The topic of her dissertation was Nurturing Cooperative Learning Online. Her background is in teaching business communications at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She has also taught technology courses at various colleges.

Last month we talked about planning your presentation. This month we are going to talk about bringing that presentation to the screen. A recent trend in presentations is to move away from slides with a title and a bullet list, to slides that contain a graphic image in the background and a word, phrase, or number that the presenter wants to emphasize. Presentations like this can be very powerful because they allow the audience to focus all its attention on listening to the presenter, rather than reading bullet points while trying to listen. This type of slide is often used in TED talks. I had the opportunity to be in attendance for a presentation that followed this model. It was amazing how much easier it was to listen to the presenter! To learn more about this model read, or research, Weissman’s Presenting to Win![1]

If you are not ready to make that drastic of a change to your presentation style, the next few paragraphs will provide some tips for creating great slides with titles and bullets.

Tip #1 – Your slides are only meant to support what you are saying. This means that there should be no more than about four bullet points per slide and about four words per bullet point—many instructors call this the 4 x 4 rule. Think about the billboards you see along the interstate. If they are wordy, it is hard to read them (especially if you are driving). It is a lot easier to understand the message of the billboard if there are fewer words along with an image emphasizing the key point.

If you need to include a long quote, do so sparingly. When you are presenting, consider only highlighting the key points of the quote. Unless there is a specific reason to read the quote verbatim, avoid doing so. Reading your slides verbatim to your audience can send the unspoken message that you believe that they are not capable of reading it themselves.

Tip #2 – Your bullet points should be grammatically parallel. This tip can be summed up with one word—consistency. Do not switch “voices” between bullet points. Begin each point with the same word type, such as action verbs. Begin each point with either a capital or lower case letter; do not mix cases. You should be using short phrases--remember the four words or less tip--so you should not need to use punctuation to end the phrases. If you do use punctuation, use it consistently.

Tip #3 – Your words should be spelled and used correctly. This should go without saying, but spelling errors and using words incorrectly (think “effect” and “affect”) diminish your credibility.

Tip #4 – Your graphics and images should support the key point of the slide. Graphics can aid your audience in understanding your message, or they can impede that understanding. Dancing elephants can be great for younger audiences but probably not appropriate for use in Bible class. Are you referring to a geographical location? Use Google Images to find a picture of that location and include that in your slide.

[1] Jerry Weissman, Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story (Pearson Education, Inc., 2009)

In this post we covered some tips for getting words onto your slides. Next month, we will talk about the visual qualities of your slides—fonts, colors, etc.