Your Next Presentation: Pictures, Then Words

Lesson Launch Blog

By Dr. Paul E. Binford
President, Mississippi Council of the Social Studies

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

In They Snooze, You Lose:  The Educator’s Guide to Successful Presentations (2011), Lynell Burmark offers an array of practical suggestions to enhance your next presentation.  In the book’s formatting, Burmark clearly practices what she preaches!

The best way to foster learning involves both words and pictures. The key is in knowing which goes where.
— They Snooze, You Lose

This presentation guide is user friendly.  Each couple of pages of text are followed by a practical activity to involve the reader.  For example, open up one of your existing slide presentations and count the number of words on a typical slide or—better yet—count the words on each slide and divide them by the number of slides in the presentation (excluding the title slide). 

What is the average number of words you use on a given slide?

If you answered, “40,” your right at the average (see Activity 1.9). 

The first chapter (some 22 pages) is entitled, “Tweaking presentations,” and it is a helpful starting point for the presenter—not lecturer, mind you—with a modest set of presentation skills.  Here are a few suggestions that I cherry-picked from Burmark's opening chapter to improve your next presentation:

1. Slides are like billboards they are “glance media” and to be effective must be processed in three seconds.

2. Make sure your slide background doesn’t compete with your slide’s content.

3. Replace black and white visuals with color; you'll improve retention by 75%.

4. One of the best color combinations for slides is a blue background with yellow text.

5. Of the 16.7 million colors the human eye can see, it will go to yellow first.

6. Use widely kerned fonts (e.g., Calibri and Verdana) for readability.

7. No more than two typefaces per slide.

8. Minimize text; maximize images!

By the way, the picture of the dour, scowling man at the top of this blog posting is a daguerreotype--the earliest form of photography--of John Bell, who served as Speaker of the US House of Representatives (1833-1835), Secretary of War (1841), and US Senator (1847-1859) from Tennessee.  However, John Bell is best remembered as one of four major presidential candidates in the Election of 1860, won by Abraham Lincoln.  In fact, Lincoln's opposition was so badly splintered in this election that Bell received 592,906 votes running under the banner of the short-lived Constitutional Union Party.  Had those votes gone to the Democratic candidate, Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln would have lost the popular vote to the Senator from Illinois by nearly 100,000 votes.  A useful website with all past presidential elections--including state-by-state popular and electoral vote totals--can be found at this link:  The American Presidency Project

With a countenance like that no wonder John Bell finished fourth in the popular vote!  Invented in 1839, daugerretypes, such as Bell's image and hundreds of others (847 total) featuring mid-nineteenth US historical figures, can be found at this Library of Congress link:  Daguerreotype Images

In summary, your presentation involves a delicate dance between showing an image and then telling about it. “The best way to foster learning,” Burmark concludes, “involves both words and pictures. The key is in knowing which goes where.”

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