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Perfect Powerpoints

Powerpoint has become a wonderful tool for those involved not only in kids work, but any avenue of Christian service. Whereas those travelling around used to have to carry a huge amount of material in the form of acetates, flannel graphs and a myriad of other resources, much of it can be replaced with a small laptop and projector. In saying that, the older methods are not obsolete, but the real focus of this article is how to get the most out of your powerpoint slides.

One of Powerpoints big selling points, is that you can do a huge number of things with very little prior knowledge of the technology or ideals behind it. However, that is also one of its big failings. Let me illustrate this with an example of something most of us would use everyday...the printer.

When computers first started to rise in popularity and companies started the widespread deployment of them, there needed to be some way (before email) of transferring the information presented on a persons screen to others in the company and further afield. Enter the printer. These came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes from the typewriter like daisy wheel, through to the dot matrix printer. These were wonderful things, if not a little noisy, but their big failing was that they only had one colour. To paraphrase the tagline of the Model T Ford, "You can have any colour you want, as long as it's black". Then came the inkjet printer and suddenly a world of colour opened up in front of us.

Very soon we found documents being printed that used just about every colour under the sun. However nice these might have look to those producing them, very often the result for the reader was eye strain and a painful headache. And so the same can be said of powerpoint. Just because you can represent 16.7million colours does not mean that you have to.

So, for the powerpoint novices out there, here's a quick and dirty guide to getting the most out of your powerpoint slides.

Do a little research

Researching where it is you are doing your presentation is never a waste of time. Nor is finding out what kind of audience you will be speaking to. Whilst many of the design principles we'll talk about in this article can be applied to most scenarios, there may be times where you'll want to show something that will work in one place but not in another. Here are some of the things to look out for.

  1. Ambient Light
    Is it a dark room with natural light blocked out, or does it have large amounts of light streaming in through the windows.
  2. Room Size
  3. Where are you in relation to the projected image.
  4. Will you have a screen in front of you, or do you need to rely on the screen alone.
  5. Age of your audience

Size Matters!

Although when you are designing your slides things might be perfectly readable, you need to take into account the things you have researched above. If for example you are in a large venue, then you need to make sure that even the people sitting right at the back can read what you have on the screen. Very often this means having less on a slide in favour of a larger font. Smaller venus can cope with smaller fonts.

Colour Choice

Make sure that whatever colour you choose for your text contrasts well with your background. For example, If you stick with the default black text, then a white background works well. A great tool that you can use to check this is Jonathan Snooks Colour Contrast Check. Simply plug in your colour choice either by entering the hex number of the colour, or using the sliders. The information panel on the right let you know whether it complies with the WCAG guidelines.

Example of how text disappears  when  gradients are used.

Watch your gradients

There has been a big shift in recent years to using gradients as backgrounds. Be very careful of how you use these. The colour you use for the text might show up clearly at the top of the screen, but be illegible at the bottom. The example shows how text can disappear if a poor colour choice is selected.

Content of your slide

This is probably the most important part of designing your slide and is something that will take quite a bit of practice. No matter what kind of an audience you are presenting to, you should try and keep your slides short and to the point. The aim of a powerpoint slide is not to replace you as the presenter, it is to give the audience a little prompt to remind them what you are talking about and also to put things in context. Try to avoid copying huge long portions of text from your bible onto the screen. If you are lucky, the audience will read it, but most likely they'll not be able to concentrate on what you are saying. If they try to listen and read, the chances are they'll not pick up either you or the text.

Bite the bullet

Whilst bullet points work well in a company setting, they very rarely (but not always) work when talking to children. Powerpoint offers you a great chance to illustrate your point visually with text backing up what you are saying. For example, if you were telling the story of creation, you could just list using bullets what was created each day. However if you instead show pictures of what was created along with a heading describing it, you encourage your audience

Keep animations to a minimum

Animations are a great tool within Powerpoint, but shouldn't be used a lot. Remember, powerpoint is there to backup what you are saying, not to take over. In the case of animations, less is definitely more! Final point, unless you are trying to illustrate someone being shot, or how loud it used to be in the typing pools of old, don't add sounds to your animations.