Presentations involving PowerPoint (and other software) are a popular platform for lecture material and can ease retention of course concepts. The following draws from scholarship about the most impactful formats for presentations that help students learn.
1. How much presentation do you need? Generally speaking, a slide is only helpful if it will:
- Introduce important concepts or complex material
- Involve an image that you will concurrently narrate with lecture
- Highlight a brief, important quote that you will either unpack or expand upon with your lecture
- Present information that cannot be easily explained
- Connect to content from a previous or upcoming slide
If a slide does not meet one or more of these criteria, consider using another medium (Niemer, 2014).
2. Initial slides may provide a brief, bulleted outline of the lecture and define important concepts.
3. Further slides should fall into one of several categories (Garner & Alley, 2013, 2016; Mayer, 2014; Overson, 2014):
- Evidence toward an assertion slides present an assertion (either at the top of the slide or verbally) with a graphic that explains that assertion. The graphic is then described and explained in detail verbally.
- Slides that signal key concepts or define key terms. This may be done by pulling out a quotation or definition, setting it off with a box, an arrow, or change in text color, and spending time unpacking meaning.
4. Regardless of the type of slide, the content should be kept simple (Mayer, 2014; Overson, 2014):
- Slides should not be verbatim repetition of lecture content.
- Graphics should be easy to read, without too many complex components.
- All slides should present the content in a simplified manner, reducing effort needed to connect lecture to the visual aid.
- Narration should reference and draw from the slides immediately present, as though you are in conversation with the presentation.
5. General advice on slide legibility:
- Maintain similar text formatting throughout the presentation, unless you are highlighting important material.
- Sans serif fonts are easier to read than serif fonts.
- Use appropriate capitalization.
- Fonts should be no smaller than 18-point to be legible or 24-point if you are providing definitions/quotes.
- Use colors that are on opposite ends of the color spectrum/starkly contrast each other. Avoid combinations that may be difficult for students with colorblindness to see as they are similar in hue or spectrum location (i.e. Green & Red; Green & Brown; Blue & Purple; Green & Blue; Light Green & Yellow; Blue & Grey; Green & Grey; Green & Black).
- Image one is of a presentation slide where the heading has a placeholder for the “title of presentation in capital letters.” Below the heading, in slightly smaller print, text holds the place of an image that relates to and emphasizes the topic of the lecture.
- Image 2 is of a presentation slide where the heading has a placeholder for a “sentence that introduces the focus of the lecture,” and three placeholders below that for three lecture topics. Underneath the placeholders for topics are placeholders for related images.
- Image 3 is of a presentation slide where the heading has a placeholder for a “complete sentence that makes an assertion.” Underneath the heading, the slide is split in two. On the left, there is a placeholder for “arrows, callouts, attribution, etcetera, that highlight important material.” On the right, a box serves a placeholder for “content that provides evidence for the assertion.
- Image 4 is of a presentation slide where the heading reads “Remember to keep diagrams simple.” Below the heading are three figures, each with a caption. The first is of three rectangular blocks arranged as a pyramid, with two, two-way arrows connecting the box at the top of the pyramid with the two boxes at the bottom of the pyramid. A third two-way arrow connects the two boxes at the bottom of the pyramid. Underneath the diagram, the caption reads “Simple” with a thumbs up symbol. Beneath the caption is placeholder text where one can “add further details where needed here.” The second figure is of three layers of stacked boxes. Three boxes of equal width on the bottom, two boxes on the next layer where one is twice the width of the other. One large box that is the width of the two other layers sits on top. The caption reads “Less Simple” with a thumbs up symbol. Beneath the caption is placeholder text where one can “add further details where needed here.” The third figure is of a series of tightly packed, labeled circles, with a number of arrows connecting the circles. The figure is so dense so as to be illegible. The caption reads “A Bit Much” with a sad faced emoji. Beneath the caption is placeholder text where one can “add further details where needed here.”
Fully describing visuals and unpacking definitions or quotes will be helpful for all students, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities.
Garner, J. K., & Alley, M. P. (2012). How the design of presentation slides affects audience comprehension: A case for the assertion-evidence approach. International Journal of Engineering Education, 29(6), 1564-1579.
Garner, J. K., & Alley, M. P. (2016). Slide structure can influence the presenter’s understanding of the presentation’s content. International Journal of Engineering Education, 32(1a), 39-54.
Mayer, R. E. (2014). Research-based principles for designing multimedia instruction. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum (pp. 59-70). Retrieved from http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.
Overson, C. (2014). Applying multimedia principles to slideshows for academic presentation. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum (pp. 252-258). Retrieved from http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
Niemer, R. [CRLTeach]. (2014, January 24). PowerPoint based on the science of learning [Video File]. Retrieved from: