I wasn’t quite sure where to start, so I directed myself to the WSI’s mission statement: “to help improve critical reading and writing skills in the Faculty of Community Services.” In other words, the WSI aim is one of improving linguistic literacy.
Linguistic literacy is naturally integral to great communication. But what about visual literacy?Consider the world in which we live. While the written word is still the most treasured means of communication (at least in Western societies), it now competes with the graphic world perhaps more than ever. The sheer ubiquity of photography, film, television, and multimedia design is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it has changed the way we think and communicate—for better or for worse. With all of the graphic media present in our culture, there arises a need for a more robust understanding of literacy: one that acknowledges both the linguistic and the visual.
Which brings us to a very prevalent form of visual communication: the slideshow presentation. The slideshow presentation combines the linguistic (especially oratory) and with visual. In both academic and business circles, slideshow software is a tool used for a variety of rhetorical purposes: to inform, to persuade, even to entertain sometimes; Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth speaking tour and subsequent documentary film benefitted greatly from his slideshow presentation skills.The present-day slideshow is often traced back to the introduction of PowerPoint software in 1987, but even PowerPoint was preceded by the overhead projector and the 35mm slide projector. What PowerPoint did, in conjunction with the rise of personal computing, was allow the layperson to design presentation slides without the need for design professionals. Powerpoint arguably democratized the slide-making process by reducing barriers to entry, such as cost or design expertise.
While this is generally a good thing, there is some cause for pause. We’ve all experienced “death by Powerpoint”: the feeling of boredom and dread when you are a held captive to a presentation hindered and hijacked by long or meaningless slides; the presenters of such “lethal” presentations use slides as a crutch for shallow content or poor public speaking. I hope this is not the case today.
Like any tool, results rely on both the tool itself and the tool user. Some critics, such as Edward Tufte, place the blame on the tool itself. Tufte has called PowerPoint “evil,” in that it “trivializes content” by encouraging short bullet points and ornamental chartjunk . But explicit in Tufte’s criticism of Powerpoint is also a criticism of the presenters who use it. Users must use Powerpoint as a “supplement” to a presentation, not as a “substitute” (Tufte, 2003)
Just as double negatives or misplaced commas weaken a student’s thesis, so too do poor design choices weaken an instructor’s presentation. To build visual literacy and improve presentations, we will go over some best practices for slides. Let’s divide this two sections: approach and aesthetic.
You are the architect of your presentation, and all good architects begin with a blueprint. Sure, it’s tempting to turn on your computer, launch Powerpoint, and begin to build your presentation in a slide mentality. But would an architect break ground or lay brick without sketching out the final result first?
Presenters should approach a presentation with the mindset that content is first, visuals second.You are the architect, and the manuscript contentis your blueprint. I find that starting with a written manuscript is the best way to ensure focus and consistency. Determine the content, delivery, and order of what you need to communicate to the audience before touching any software. This is still, after all, an oratorical presentation; your visual aides are just that—an aide. If you imagine your presentation as a film, you are star and the slides are your supporting role sidekick.
The slides should not function as a document or a teleprompter. They should not be used to hold dense amounts of text—that’s what your manuscript is for. Nor should they be used to display a point-form version of exactly what you’re saying. If you’re reading too heavily from your slides, there’s a good chance your back might be to the audience. And your audience will read faster than you can speak, so doing both simultaneously is redundant at best and confusing at worst.
Instead, break up your manuscript into little ideas. Begin to think of visual ways to represent these ideas on the slides. Strip away as much text as you can, preserving just the key words and adding appropriate visuals. By thinking visually and reducing text, you give yourself a gentle prompt while reinforcing the core ideas for your audience. Of course, to ensure a good speech flow, nothing beats rehearsing. Otherwise, use the manuscript if you must, making sure to still establish eye contact.
Aesthetic rules are usually subjective and can sometimes be broken in creative and effective ways. However, if there is one overriding mantra I can offer, it is this….
Don’t ornament. Compliment.Unnecessarily decorations—whether they be complicated 3d charts, excessive clip art or stock imagery, or flashy animations—make work against you, and possibly “detract from credibility” (Duarte 66, 2008)It is okay if your slides are sparse or have a lot of clearspace, so long as they highlight what’s important. Put simply, keep it simple.
Treat your background as a canvas. Think of it as a container for the content, and avoid making them the focal point. If you choose to make—say—a photograph the background for your slideshow, you will have to ensure that any text, lines, or colours you use are legible on top of the photograph throughout the presentation; this may be more trouble than its worth.
You can choose to have light text on a dark background (for instance, black on white), which is formal and better suited for larger venues. Or, you can choose white on black, which is informal and works better for smaller venues and handouts. (Duarte 132, 2008).In any case, colour contrast is important for readability. However, contrasting colours should show distinction without clashing—they should still look pleasing to the eye.
This is where the colour wheel can come in handy. [Show colour wheel] Certain combinations of colour, based on their relative position to each other on the wheel, can elicit certain moods. You can build colour palates based on the tone you wish to convey.
A fun tool to use is Adobe’s Kuler. It lets you pick a base colour and offers you palettes based on that colour, which you are free to experiment with. Pictured here is the colour palette I used fro this presentation.
In addition to background and colour, text is another important aesthetic consideration.Font size should go no smaller than 24pt. If you have the reduce the font size more, perhaps the text isn’t concise enough. Generally speaking, you should use no more than two different fonts: use one for headlines and subheadings, and the other for blocks of text. If you need to emphasize something, consider using bold or italics before resorting to an extra font (Duarte 143, 2008). In the interest of keeping different fonts to a minimum, avoidfrivolous fonts that lack versatility. For instance, the much hated Comic Sans is playful but does not command respect. Or the over used Papyrus may seem to make sense in an archeology presentation, but looks out of place elsewhereAlso, make sure that you use bullets sparingly. When you do use bullets, treat them like headlines, use parallel structure, and avoid sub-bullets (Duarte 151, 2008).
The Meta Slideshow
OverviewI. Visual literacyII. Best PracticesIII. Powerpoint vs. Prezi
A New LiteracyLinguistic Literacy Visual Literacy“help improve critical “understand, produce, anreading and writing skills” d use significant(WSI) images, objects, and visual actions” (Felton, 2008) L V
For the Architect…First comes Then comesCONTENT visuals
For the Presenter…First comes Then comesCONTENT visuals
For the Superheroes…First comes Then comesCONTENT visuals
A Presentation is…NOT a Document NOT a TeleprompterSlides should not be used to hold • Nor should not be used to displaydense amounts of text—that’s what a point-form version of exactlyyour manuscript is for. Nor should they what you’re saying.be used to display a point-formversion of exactly what you’re saying. • If reading too heavily from yourIf you’re reading too heavily from your slides, good chance your backslides, there’s a good chance your might be to the audience.back might be to the audience. Andyour audience will read faster than • Audience will read faster thanyou can speak, so doing both you can speaksimultaneously is redundant at bestand confusing at worst.
“Creating Ideas, Not Slides” (Duarte 25, 2008)