Tips and Traps With Electronic Presentation Tools

Tom Worthington FACS

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University, Canberra

For: Computing 1900 Students, The Australian National University
Version 1.0 5 April 2000:


These are some tips and traps when using electronic presentation tools. This was written for the Comp 1900 students learning to use Microsoft Power Point for scientific presentations. However, they can be applied to other presentation tools and for web pages used to prepare on-screen electronic presentations, overhead transparencies and slides. This is illustrated with examples from personal experience.

Check You Have Rights to the Content

Before using any text, image, or other material, check that you have the right to use it. There are complex laws and social rules about how much of someone's work you can reproduce in a presentation. However, ignorance is no defence. Check that you are not infringing copyright or other laws, or the customs of academic discourse when using material.

Two examples of how you can get caught:

Use a Template

Finding readable and pleasing colours, lettering, layout and backgrounds is a complex task and calls for some aesthetic skill. Beginners should start by using a provided template, from your organisation or supplied with the presentation package. Resist the temptation to change the scheme for just one slide. Don't make the text smaller; it was designed large to be readable on a screen.

Check the target system is compatible

If using electronic display, check that the hardware and software used is compatible with the presentation you prepared:

Many presentations are delayed while the presenter tries to get the slides to display correctly on the meeting room equipment. On occasions I have seen months of preparation ruined because the colours, resolution, disk or processor were not compatible.

How will you get it there?

Usually the presentation has to be transported from the system it was composed on, to the system to be printed or displayed from. Check that the presentation is not too big to transport. Less than a Mbyte is good. Less than 100Kbytes is better. Check the transport medium is compatible with the target:

Shrink the pictures

Photographs and diagrams are the biggest cause of bloat in presentations. About 5Kbytes per slide will be used by the text, the rest is images, sound and video.

To make a presentation smaller, first find the biggest image in it. Check that the image is displayed full size, not shrunk to fit. If not, then use a graphics package to make a small copy of the image. For photographs, try using a higher level of compression.

In 1997 I received at the Defence Department an e-mailed briefing from the flag ship of the US 7th Fleet. This document was several Mbytes and had been segmented in transit from the ship at sea into several e-mail messages. When the segments were reassembled the presentation turned out to have a few large photographs of military equipment in it. When these photos were reduced to an appropriate size, the presentation was less than one Mbyte.

Squash the text

A very safe and quick way to prepare a presentation is from an existing electronic document, such as a conference paper or web site. Often the document can be simply copied and pasted into the presentation tool. You may have to convert the document in a compatible format (such as RTF) before copying.

After copying, convert each major heading in the document to a slide title. Convert minor headings to bullet points on the slide. Delete the body text of the document, until it all fits on the slides. Add graphics from the original as appropriate.

Add a reference from the end of the presentation back to the source document. This can be a hypertext link for electronic presentations.

Check with someone

Before making your presentation test it on a limited audience. However carefully prepared, mistakes will remain. It is better to find these on a dry run than the big day.

Put it online

As well as being presented live, electronic presentations can be placed on and internal web server or on the Internet for downloading. This can be done before or after a live presentation. The presentation should be linked from a web page which describes it, so that it can be found. But check your organisation rules, before putting material online

Further Information

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Tips and Traps With Electronic Presentation Tools by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.