Judy Nollet
White Plume Communications

writer, instructional designer, eLearning developer

A Slide-ing Scale

It's so easy nowadays to create a computer presentation. Templates for Microsoft PowerPoint and similar software provide a professional look, allowing just about anyone to produce a slick "slide show."

Unfortunately, when "just about anyone" does create a show, they don't always know what's best for presenting in various situations. A prime example: the use of very small type presented in front of a large audience.

If you've attended any conferences, chances are you've seen this. The speaker displays a screen stuffed with statistics, but you can't read any of it, even from the middle of the auditorium. Sometimes, even the main points are hard to distinguish.

Of course, the person creating these screens—while sitting directly in front of the computer—can read everything clearly. But that doesn't help audience members in the back rows.

If you use these presentations, how can you prevent this "squint syndrome"?

  • Use bigger type. (Yes, that means a smaller amount of text.)
  • Use condensed phrases for your bullet-points.
  • Break information into more screens. (This type of "slide" is free!)
  • Turn text statistics into colorful charts if possible, or just sum up the main data.

Still not sure if your work will project to the back of the room?

There are formulas for determining how large your type will be when projected to a certain screen size. And there are rules about what size type is visible from a given distance (think about that chart in your optometrist's office). That's the hard way.

The easy way is a trick I learned in the old days, when multi-image slide shows ruled convention screens. Generally, when viewing a slide without projection, people look at it through a magnifier. However, to ensure the legibility of speaker support slides, we used to hold them at arm's length. If we could still read the type, we knew the folks in the back row would also be able to read it.

For checking computer presentations, this trick requires some modification. After all, monitors are normally kept at arm's length. So simply step back from the computer. Take more steps if the show will be projected in a very large auditorium. If you can't read the type from across the room, make the type bigger.

What if the same presentation will be used one-on-one and one-on-many? Well, bigger type is legible for both situations. And you shouldn't need the entire speech on screen anyway. Remember, the computer is "speaker support," not the other way around. So let the clear, concise text on screen do its job while you do yours.

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Copyright Judy Nollet, White Plume Communications. 
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