October 1997 Bulletin
How NOT to make effective slides
Top 10 list of ways to make viewers cringe
by Colin F. Moseley, MD
Colin F. Moseley, MD, is chairman of the Academy's
Committee on Electronic Media Education
10. Choose the fanciest background you can find
- This ensures that listeners will find at least one thing interesting
about your presentation.
- Simple slides with plain backgrounds leave nothing else for
the audience to think about.
9. Put red writing on a green background
- This will ensure that the 10 percent of North American males
who are red/green color-blind will not be able to read your slides
and will have to invite you back for a repeat.
- White or yellow on blue or black provides no mystery.
8. Change your colors, fonts and styles for each talk
- This will guarantee that each talk is original since you won't
be able to use slides prepared previously.
- It's very annoying to listen to talks by those who
always use the same format. You can get fooled into thinking that
they went to a lot of effort in preparing a talk specifically
for the occasion.
7. Use a tiny font and pack lots of information on each slide
- Gives the audience a chance to read ahead if they get bored.
- Your audience may drift off if it's too easy to read
- Avoid Helvetica for titles and Times Roman for text. They
are the easiest to read and your audience will move on too quickly.
If you can read the bare slide with the naked eye, it's
6. Put distracting items in little tiny letters on the bottom
of the slide
- Those who are bored with your talk might prefer to have something
- The name of the meeting will ensure that your audience knows
where they are.
- Your own name will ensure that nobody in the audience forgets
who is up there talking.
- The date will ensure that when you use the slide again everybody
will know how long you have been making such great up-to-date
- The title of the talk will ensure that if you ever use a slide
again the audience will know that you are resourceful enough to
give part of an old talk.
- The logo of your hospital will ensure that if you ever move,
future audiences will learn about your own career history at the
same time as you give your talk and will be interested in figuring
out why you can't hold a job.
5. Use whole sentences
- This will make sure you don't get any words wrong.
- The audience will be challenged to extract the important points
from the text and will have to pay extra attention.
- Short points make it difficult to follow along word by word
with the pointer.
4. Get yourself a few general purpose surgical slides
- Select a few slides that show blood, surgical instruments
and unrecognizable tissue. These can be used in any talk to illustrate
surgical concepts and anatomy. Don't leave them on the
screen too long.
- Your audience is surgeons and you shouldn't have to
help them with recognizing the orientation of the patient or the
anatomy. Being shown diagrams on the other screen to clarify the
situation is demeaning to the highly-skilled orthopaedic surgeon.
3. Transfer your X-rays to slides electronically
- Photograph the X-ray, scan the photograph into a computer
file, crop and size the image in the computer image file, import
the computer image file into a slide program, and, finally, print
your computer slide show onto actual film. The resulting graininess
and pixelization will impress your audience that you are technologically
- The manipulation of images by computer provides the opportunity
to make your points more clearly. For example, to improve the
postoperative X-ray so that it more clearly shows the excellent
- Simply photographing your X-rays onto slide film demonstrates
no special skills. In particular, if you use rapid contrast copy
film, your X-rays will be in dull black and white and you will
lose that nice blue tinge that comes with Ektachrome. Your X-ray
slides will be so clear that the audience won't be impressed.
2. Get your slides made by a medical artist
- If you do them yourself you will concentrate completely on
conveying information and understanding, completely losing track
of artistic issues.
- If you sit down yourself with a slide-making program you will
have to admit that you are not immune to the changing world.
1. Always use double projection
- Showing two slides allows bright listeners to move on ahead
if you're too slow for them.
- Having the second screen gives you the opportunity to show
pictures of your children (to show how virile/fecund you are),
your car (to show how well you're doing), yourself standing
on the top of Mount Baldy (to show where the nickname 'Baldy'
comes from), your boat (to show how much leisure time you have),
or a flower (to show how artistic you are). These are all career-building
- If your talk does not require double projection (e.g., no
AP and lateral X-rays) think up some excuse.
- Getting out of sync with the two screens will generate a level
of interest beyond your wildest dreams.
How to make effective slides
- The slide content should focus the audience. There should
be a clear purpose, a single main point.
- Use words sparingly. Use key words that focus what you mean.
- Highlight short lists with bullets.
- Pictures are better than words.
- Graphs are effective. Label graph axes, lines and bars.
- Use only one or two fonts. San serif typefaces such as Avant
Garde, Helvetica, Gill and Optima are preferable.
- Use large font sizes so people in the back of the room can
read the words. Larger type sizes for headlines are effective,
but don't use too many different type sizes.
- Upper and lower case words are easier to read than all capitalized
- Use one format and color scheme for all the slides in a presentation.
- Use contrasting colors. Consider dark, rich colors for the
background: black, blues, greens or reds; and warmer, bright colors
for the foregroundówhite, yellows or light blue. Beware
of red-green combinations because many people are red-green color-blind.
- Don't use too many different colors on one slide.
- Gradient color backgrounds look nice, but can create problems
when text and graphics contain colors that contrast with part,
but not all, of the gradient background color.
- Beware of "portrait" orientation; many times
the bottom of a "portrait" slide will be projected
The information was compiled from several sources, including
Research Communication Media, Creating an Outstanding Impression
with Abstracts, Poster Exhibits and Slides by Jeffrey A. Russell,
MS and G. William Woods, MD, in Instructional Course Lectures,
Vol. 43, 1994.