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Rethinking The Design Of Presentation Slides

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Improving Communication Skills in ME

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.990.1 - 8.990.11



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Paper Authors

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Michael Alley

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Harry Robertshaw

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session ____

Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides

Michael Alley, Harry Robertshaw

Virginia Tech

Summary and Introduction

The new presentation slide goes up in class, and the students immediately give it their attention. Do the students quickly grasp the main assertion of the slide? Does the slide actually help students understand and retain the material? If the slide is posted as part of a set of notes, do the students understand it two weeks later? In the past decade, presentation slides have become a common addition to the teaching of technical subjects. Ideally, these slides can emphasize key points, can show images too complex to explain in words, and can reveal the organization of the presentation. In addition, well designed slides can increase the retention of the audience from 10 percent, for just hearing, to 50 percent for both hearing and seeing the material [1]. However, are the designs that most engineering instructors use, and that programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint offer as defaults, the most effective at communicating technical information? This paper argues that they are not. Specifically, this paper challenges the typical designs that rely on phrase headlines and bulleted lists and offers a dramatically different design. Having its roots at the national laboratories [2], this new design quickly orients the audience to the main assertion of the slide with a succinct sentence headline (no more than two lines) and then supports that headline primarily with images and, where needed, with words [3].

Recommended Design of Slides

When slides are chosen to communicate the images and results of a scientific presentation, their design becomes important for the success of that presentation. Typically, as soon as a slide is projected, the listener shifts attention from the speaker to the screen. When the slide has words that cannot be read, the listener is distracted with the question of what those words are. Likewise, when the slide does not quickly orient the listener, the listener becomes confused, wondering what the point of this slide is. If the presentation does not allow for questions or if the listener is not confident enough to ask a question, then these questions fester in the listener. Finally, if the slides as a whole package do not have a recognizable beginning, middle, and ending, then the slides do not

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition Copyright 2003 ©, American Society for Engineering Education

Alley, M., & Robertshaw, H. (2003, June), Rethinking The Design Of Presentation Slides Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11436

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