Designing Seminar Slides
Copyright 2006, Michael K. Gilson
Visuals help explain your ideas through schematic representations;
support your arguments with documentation, such as specimens or data
tables; distill and convey your message with text; and keep the
audience oriented with slides that convey the structure of your talk.
They also can provide some pleasure and a bit of relief from the
potential dryness of a scientific topic. Slides also can detract from
your talk: if they are too complicated, the audience may become
focused on figuring them out, rather than on what you are telling
them. Also, poorly made visuals tend to alienate the audience. Here
are a few specific suggestions for designing slides that will enhance
- Stick with simple slide formats. The main purpose of
slides is to present information, and many of the predesigned slide
formats provided with PowerPoint and other programs are so complicated
and showy that they detract from the information you are putting on each slide.
- Provide informative headers. The header of each slide
should help orient the viewer to the material on the slide. Avoid
using the same header for a series of slides; this misses the
opportunity to help your audience by distinguishing one slide from the
next. Also, do not repeat the header in the body of the
- In a list, put your main point first. If a list starts
relatively minor points, the audience may lose interest before
reaching the really important items.
- Keep text terse. A slide with many words looks
forbidding and distracts your audience from your spoken words. Try to
write lists as noun phrases rather than full sentences. If you must
use full sentences, use a telegraphic style to keep the text
brief. The text in a slide should support your talk, never substitute
- Use color thoughtfully. Color is pleasant for the
audience and can promote clarity.
- Use matching colors
for items that are conceptually related. For example, if a
schematic illustrates several proteins, say, each with a different
color, then the graph for each protein should be colored to match the
- Use more intense colors for more important items. In the
previous example, if the rest of your talk will focus on one protein
in particular, consider coloring it red, and leaving the others in
more muted colors.
- Avoid garish and conceptually meaningless color schemes.
Beware of overusing colors, especially bright and intense ones, unless
you are an artist and know what you are doing.
- Using consistent formatting, for clarity and neatness.
Mixing fonts (e.g., Times, Arial) on a slide or within a talk creates
a sloppy appearance and should not be done without a specific reason.
Similarly, try to maintain consistent font sizes and capitalization
rules for all headers, list items, etc.
- Leave decent margins. A good-sized margin around the text
and figures is visually appealing and avoids giving the impression
that something has been cut off by the edge of the slide.
- Provide adequate contrast. Put light-colored text against
a dark background or dark-colored text against a light background. If
your slides are difficult to make out, your audience may spend more
time squinting at your slides than paying attention to what you are