How to do a powerpoint presentation (social sciences, economics)

I LOVE me some powerpoints.

Think about what you want your audience to take away.  Use the rule of 3 to emphasize those points (say what you’re going to say, say it, then tell people that you said it).  Depending on how much time you have you won’t be able to get through every point in the paper, so think about what subset you want to present, what slides you want to keep in case of questions but not actually present, and so on.

Use the powerpoint as a guide to remind you what to talk about, so brief bullets/phrases instead of full sentences.  Do not read off the slides.

Some people will only want to read your slides, some people will only want to listen to what you say.  Make sure that people who do one or the other will still get the gist of your presentation.

Make sure your fontsize is big enough that the people in the back can see it if they’re wearing glasses.   My heuristic is to not go below 28 point Calibri if it’s something I want them to read.  (Table notes can go smaller)

Graphs are often more compelling than regression output.  (But keep the regression output as a backup)

Don’t use fancy wipes/fade-outs/etc.  Anything that distracts without a purpose is useless.

Development economists, behavioral economists, psychologists, antrhopologists, etc. use a lot of photos/pictures/drawings and occasionally movies.  Do that if it is common in your field.  If it isn’t, then only sex it up like that if it helps improve understanding.

DO NOT USE PREZI.  Or if you do, use it like you would Powerpoint or Beemer.  You do not want to give members of your audience migraines.

I have often found it helpful to have different versions of the same information in the powerpoint that I can skip over depending on how pressed for time I am.  So I will have a pretty chart, regression output, and summary bullets (or two out of the three) and I will use combinations of one or two of these depending on how much time I have left.  It is also helpful to know which sections can be skipped without losing the main themes of the presentation.

Practice your talk.  Know how the talk is going to differ if questions are allowed vs. no questions being allowed.

It is better to go a little under than a little over.  It is better to skip parts than to talk so quickly nobody can understand you.

Join us next Tuesday for:  How to write a powerpoint discussion(!)

Academic readers– is this about right?  What things are the same or different in your discipline?  Any other tips?

20 Responses to “How to do a powerpoint presentation (social sciences, economics)”

  1. Fiona McQuarrie (@all_about_work) Says:

    Yes X 10,000 to “do not read off the slides”. Please don’t do this!!!

  2. David Stern (@sterndavidi) Says:

    I’m also an economist. I try to minimize text as much as possible. Most economists love to put up heaps of paragraphs full of names and years referring to papers that no-one in the audience probably knows what they are about. I try to do very little of that.

    OTOH reading off the slides sometimes helps where someone can barely speak intelligible English…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Every time I pass a classroom around here, there’s someone presenting a slide with waaaaayyyyyy too much text. I don’t know what’s going on but I’m glad I don’t have to endure it.

  3. Leah Says:

    Ecologists use lots of pictures. My favorite ever ppt presenter actually used almost entirely pictures and very few to no words. The best is that some pictures seemed random. As he talked, you’d go “oh!” and see the connection. For example, there’d be a pic of a waterfall. Wait a sec — he’s discussing food webs in old fields (farm fields converting back to nature). Then, he’d start in on the trophic cascades seen in the system (how different species that don’t even eat each other affect each other due to food web interactions). Beautiful. I still remember his presentations clearly even though it has been over 8 years since I’ve seen one.

    I teach my students almost all of these tips here. Not all are applicable. But I am working hard on making sure I raise some high schoolers who don’t make boring ppts. Also, yes, I almost always hate prezi. I’ve seen some really well done ones that don’t have major swoops and use the platform well. A fellow teacher uses prezi to make presentations that could go in any order (like tackling logical fallacies with class input). But I mostly dislike them and feel car sick when watching. My predecessor had banned ppt but loved prezi, and I never understood that. The formats might be a bit different, but they are ultimately a similar too. I prefer, again, to just teach students how to do a Power Point well.

  4. Miser Mom Says:

    The only thing I’d add is that the word “powerpoint” implies a particular brand of software. I make my presentations as pdfs (mostly using LaTeX, but occasionally just with Word or even sometimes scanning hand-drawn pictures or such).

    A huge advantage is that my files are much more stable from system to system — I don’t have Mac/PC translation errors (with math symbols, changing, say, the letter Chi to a black box can be catastrophic for the talk, especially if all the Chis AND all the Taus become boxes).

  5. Steph Says:

    This link pretty much sums up the standard for good talks in my field:
    http://tangledfields.com/2014/06/10/a-non-talk-on-giving-talks/
    simple slide design, big figures, few words, pick your takeaways first and then make sure everything you say leads to those points.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hm, I would disagree with a couple of her points. First, slides *are* your notes. They are hooks to remind you what to talk about, but they also have to be clear enough that the audience can read and understand them with minimal help from your voice.

      Also: if you’re in a field like econ where you are interrupted a lot, it is fine to say, “I’m not going to talk about this slide” for the slides that are not 100% important to your main point. Knowing what is skippable and what can be used to fill in time is an extremely important skill for time management during a talk.

  6. Nanani Says:

    As a a translator who not-infrequently handles powerpoint-type files, I would love it if my clients read this and applied it.
    When I get a clear, non-cluttered, easy to read file to translate it’s like manna from heaven!
    Sadly the majority of the files I see tend to be cluttered disasters with confusing arrows, bubbles, small text, charts that won’t look good on a projector, and so on… all of which will only be made worse when translated because the language I’m working from tends to take up much less space than the one I write in :/

    PPTs: They hurt more than your audience.

  7. crazy grad mama Says:

    “Think about what you want your audience to take away.” This. This so much. The traditional academic method of dumping all of your research into slides and seeing how much you can get through in the allotted time should be avoided at all costs.

  8. xykademiqz Says:

    I am in a physical science and most of those rules hold. Figures dominate. Very little text — essentially only bullet points or otherwise main points/highlights. I also use movies in my presentations as they make the material come to life in the audience’s mind. I no longer practice talks unless it’s a very high stakes one (e.g., keynote or something that could result in gain/loss of grant money); otherwise I go through the slides once the night before, and I make sure to rehearse what I will say for the first 2-3 slides, afterwards I hit my stride.

  9. First Gen American Says:

    During my days in six sigma, I spent many hours being a pitch bitch. That being the universal description (for both genders) of someone who spends more time making slides than actually working on said project. I hated it and thought it was a waste of time but in hindsight, the experience was invaluable. It’s not a job I’d easily go back to, but I learned a whole ton of stuff that I still use all the time and I’m glad I have the experience under my belt.

    Some of my presentations are very technical and I’ll add that the liberal use of appendix/backup slides aides in the temptation to overwhelm the audience with too much data. If someone asks for specifics, you can just jump to an appendix slide without trying to cram too much into the main presentation.

    Looking forward to reading about this topic. I can’t see that I look forward to crafting presentations, but I do always like to learn more about it for when the need arises.

  10. Susan Says:

    My (* · – )#1 rule of powerpoint is: do NOT fall into their outlined hole.

    The default template of numbered lists and bullet points sucks you into using sentence fragments, jargon lists, single terms, clauses, phrases, and acronyms. All mixed together like it’s just transcribed out of your jumbled thought process.

    Write freaking whole sentences, people. That is how we read. If you want someone to quickly read and grock your shit, use a noun and a verb that matches it.

    Step awaaaaay from the outline. And if you just can’t peel yourself away, don’t asterisk every line as important. Just don’t.

    • Susan Says:

      Oh, and point 0.5: if your slide features a plot of Y versus X, do NOT title that slide “Y versus X”.

    • Leah Says:

      As a teacher who watches a lot of presentations, I completely disagree. When students write in complete sentences, they then read straight off the slide and think that’s all they need to say.

      I really love the outline. People have to listen to hear everything, but they can get the highlights from a few terms. You have to pick your terms carefully and be intentional. A good outline should not be a jumbled thought process — it should be logical, thought out, and step clearly from one topic to the next.

      Re: your second point, for people in many of the hard sciences (esp. physics), that IS how you title a graph and therefore the slide (as slides should have the title of your graph). But I allow that this may be discipline specific.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, we’re with Leah on this one. Sentences create all sorts of problems– like people reading off their slides or making the font too small. It’s all cluttery. Embrace the bullet. Embrace the outline. And yes, have a good organized outline.

  11. Link Round-Up: Preparing for a Conference Says:

    […] advice to create a PowerPoint presentation in social sciences or […]


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