Great presenters spend an inordinate amount of time on their slide set/supportive media. Supportive media is just one piece of the presentation but an important one. Bad slides ruin a presentation and draw focus away from the speaker and the message. Great slides act to reinforce the story, the content and the message. There are a number of excellent resources that can help us build better supportive media including the indispensable Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, the P3 Presentations site from Ross Fisher and the Keynotable blog led by Haney Mallemat.

Last November, I had the good fortune of spending time with both Ross and Haney at conferences and learn some of their tips on slide design. Leading up to these conferences, I was fairly proud of my supportive media and how it’s evolved over time. I often use select slides from my early lectures as examples of what not to do when I discuss slide design with my trainees. I also frequently use my current slide sets as examples of how their slides can be done better.

After watching two masters, though, I realized that I was a bit too impressed with my own work. I realized that my slide design had room for improvement, that I could select better colors and fonts and that things could be simplified and still get the same effect or, perhaps an even better one. In short, they inspired me to up my game. With these lessons in hand, I took to overhauling a slide set that I’d been using for about a year. Ironically, the slides were supportive media for a talk entitled “How To Build A Great Talk.” Below are a small selection of slides from before and after the overhaul with a short description on each one as to why I changed what I changed.

Slide #1 

I love this quote because it encapsulates so much of what I believe is wrong in medical education (and education in general). I found the original image in a google search.

There are a number of problems with the original image. Since it’s a stock image, it wasn’t created for the purpose of a slide. The website of where it came from is distracting and the border looks “scrapbooky.” The font doesn’t match the font I’ll use for the rest of the presentation and the stock image doesn’t allow me to expand past a certain point lest I loose the text off the slide. The image of McLuhan itself is an issue as his eyes direct the viewer away from the text.

In the overhaul, I simply put a little extra time into making a fresh slide. I found a high quality image of McLuhan and set the quote in my own font at a larger size to make it easier to read. Additionally, I was able to set off some of the words with a little color to stress importance of the concept.

Slide #2

This slide evolution is similar to the prior one. Again, I started with a stock image that I found on google that communicates and important idea. The stock image once again limits me in how large I can make it, what colors I can use and what font is used. The set size also doesn’t allow me to get the image to “bleed” off the slide.

In the overhaul, I can bring the image of Steve Martin up and have it run off the slide. Again, I can use my font and change the color to highlight an idea.

Slide #3

The idea I want to get across here is that building a great presentation can be boiled down to 8 simple steps. The problem with the original slide is the font. I always thought this font looked pretty cool but it’s actually not that easy to read. The new font is crisp and clean and doesn’t distract. Once again, the theme color is used to highlight a single idea.

Slide #4 + 5 

The quote conveys an important concept. This is another example of leaving behind the stock image and creating your own image. Not only does the font and color scheme now match the rest of my presentation but I’m able to vary font size to further stress the important concept; something I couldn’t do with the stock quote.

Slide #6 + 7

Two more examples of simplifying the font and using color to stress a message. In the “writer’s block” slide, the text was moved from the bottom to the top because I find that on occasion, the projector cuts off the bottom of the slide or the lectern blocks the bottom of the slide.

Slide #8

Here, the word (“focus”) and the image are fighting with each other for attention. The two components of the slide need to be brought into harmony which is done in the restructured image. Alternatively, the word “focus” could be removed entirely but I like it’s presence on the slide.

Slide #9

Once again, the font is simplified and color is added to add visual stress to the message. The text is moved up in the slide so that the eye of the audience is drawn to the text by Batman’s line of sight.

What’s the point of a post like this? It’s not to show off how pretty my slides are or to brag about a perfect slide set. I’m well aware of the fact that I thought my original slide set was great and so in a year, I may look back at the overhaul, find myself underwhelmed and overhaul it again.

The point is to demonstrate that we can’t be wedded to our supportive media; we have to be willing to reanalyze what we’ve done and honestly determine if we can do better. The point is to demonstrate the growth process that occurs in building great presentations and that this process never ends.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the slides; what you like and what you don’t. I’d love to see your process and how your supportive media has evolved over time. And mostly, I hope you’ll all be back to the blog next year to see how the next overhaul goes as I doubt my satisfaction will last.

Great supportive media evolves as the speaker does. Embrace the change.

4 thoughts on “Why We Should Update Our Supportive Media

  1. Simon Carley says:

    Great work. It’s an evolving process for all of us. Remember when we put up our old slides at TTCNYC from a few years back?

    Really showed the journey we are on and of course demonstrates that we all have some way to go.

  2. Great tips!

    Would like to try that myself.
    What kind of program do you use to create the slides and get the text where you want it?

    1. Anand Swaminathan says:

      I use keynote for everything but you can do the same with powerpoint. Moving the text around is simple in keynote. Just create a text box and slide it to where you want it.

  3. Chris says:

    I like your work! Especially that one with “focus” it just makes you focus on it) I wish I could apply such technique while writing an essay. But I just am not made for that. Instead I have to handle my assignments to professionals and hope they do their best.

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