As more classrooms and lecture halls replace overhead projectors with digital projectors, there is an increasing demand for lectures to be presented using presentation software such as PowerPoint, Keynote, Beamer or Impress.


Digital presentations have all the benefits of overhead presentations, but with much more flexibility. Animations, images, sound effects, hyperlinks to webpages, video clips and graphs can all be easily added to a presentation. At the same time, making a change can literally be done at the touch of a button or a click of the mouse.


It has never been easier to create digital presentations, but it is easy to become overwhelmed. While a good Powerpoint can really enhance a lesson, a poorly organized one can have quite the opposite effect: disengaging the audience and making the lecture hard to follow. The following tips can help you create a digital presentation for the first time, or help you improve your current presentations.


Choosing your background and font:

Most presentation software comes with ready-made backgrounds for you to use. In addition to these, there are many free backgrounds available on the Internet, and it is even possible to create your own. Whichever you choose to use, the background of your presentation should be simple. Too many colours and/or graphics can be distracting or make your text hard to see. Also, stick to one background for the whole presentation for continuity.



Whatever you choose as your background, be sure your text is legible. Use only one font throughout the presentation, and choose a colour that stands out well against your background.



It does not matter whether you prefer a dark background and a light font, or a light background and dark font, but be weary of backgrounds which require BOTH light and dark fonts in order to be legible.



Choosing Content for your Slides:

Digital presentations are meant to guide both the speaker and the audience through the lecture. Because of this, each slide should highlight the main points of discussion, but should NOT include absolutely everything you mean to say. If a slide contains too many words, the audience will spend more time reading (or frantically copying!) than listening to the speaker. Full sentences, rather than point form, also make a slide look more complicated and will tempt you to simply read the slide aloud instead of engaging the audience. The points you choose to present should be both cues to lead you through the lecture and key points for the audience to remember.




Apart from text, other elements of your slides should be added in moderation. It is a good idea to break up the presentation with a few topical graphics on the occasional slide, but be careful to not have too many. Animations (such as having text zoom in across the slide), if used, should be consistent throughout the presentation but not too distracting. Sound effects should only be used sparingly: having the computer beep every single time a point flies across the screen can get annoying after the fifth or sixth slide!




Some other tips for creating slides:

        Have one or two slides for every minute of presentation

        Start with a table of contents, and end with a concluding slide

        Have no more than 5 points per slide

        Make sure your text is large enough to read from a distance

        Avoid using all capitals

        Be sure to proofread your slides for spelling mistakes


When NOT to use presentation software:

While it may be tempting to convert all your lectures to digital presentations, there are some topics for which it is better to use conventional methods. One of the most important of these is the derivation of equations. It is much more beneficial to the students to see you walk through the logical processes of deriving a formula rather than just reading or copying the derivation down. If you would rather the students work the derivation out for themselves, give them the first step and the final result only. Imagine trying to listen to the speaker while you are copying this down and trying to follow it!



What else can you do with digital presentations?

Some professors are choosing to put copies of their digital presentations on their course homepage so that students can download them at will to review or study. While this can be quite handy if a student misses a class, there could also be negative ramifications some people do not like having their lectures available to just anyone who happens across the webpage, and some students see it as a good reason to miss class as they can get the lecture content online anyway.


Most presentation software allow you to print off the slideshow so that your audience can follow along without having to write everything down. You can take advantage of this by posing questions in the slide or asking your students to work through a simple derivation right there on the handout. You can save these versions as PDF files to post on a website, and encourage the students to print them out before class, or have printouts ready for class yourself.