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TRIO McNair Undergraduate Research Guide: Using Visual Aids

Using Visual Aids

Tips for Using PowerPoint Effectively 

  1. State no more than three or four main points on a slide [slides that have too many words on them are a big turn-off]. Remember that the slides are intended to supplement and enhance what you are saying, not to replace it. 

  1. Give your audience time to take notes from your slides. Pausing also gives you the opportunity to collect your thoughts before moving on to the next point. 

  1. Make sure your audience can see the screen. Think about where you are standing. Do not stand in front of the screen. If there is no angle where everyone can see, then move around before moving to the next slide [for example, point to something for emphasis]. 

  1. Don't overcrowd your slides with too much detail. Using color, pictures, and graphs can make your slides more interesting, but be aware of the fact that certain color combinations can be very hard to read from a distance. 

  1. Remember that PowerPoint may look great, but if the technology goes wrong, it's a good idea to print out a handout, or have some traditional overheads as a backup just in case. 

  1. I know you may be tempted to spend more time on producing PowerPoint graphics than on the actual talk but remember: if your talk is poor, no amount of fancy graphics will save it! 

Text Guidelines for PowerPoint Slides 

  • Use the same colors and fonts throughout; select graphic images in the same style 

  • Keep the background consistent and subtle 

  • Generally, use no more than six words per line 

  • Generally, use no more than six lines per slide 

  • Avoid long sentences 

  • Larger font indicates more important information 

  • Font size generally ranges from 18 to 48 point 

  • Be sure text contrasts with background 

  • Fancy fonts can be hard to read 

  • Words in all capital letters are hard to read 

  • Avoid abbreviations and acronyms 

  • Limit punctuation marks 


Handouts are a great idea if your audience isn't too big [you don't want to spend a lot of time distributing handouts]. Think about whether you want to distribute them before or after your presentation. It is always a good idea to include your references in a handout so that people can review them later. You could include some follow-up questions for discussion in your handouts as well. 

Using the Whiteboard 

If possible, put your contact information on the whiteboard before your talk begins, otherwise, you will have to turn your back on the audience and break your eye contact with them, which is never a good idea. Writing on a board is also time-consuming. Use alternative visual aids wherever possible. If you really must use a whiteboard, come prepared with the right pens and write in large, neat handwriting, so that people can read it. 

Know the Space 

Know the room from the front before you have to give your presentation. The front of a classroom feels different from the seats you are normally used to. Also, check the lighting so you avoid fiddling with the lights before your presentation. 

Creating and Using Overheads. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Designing an Effective PowerPoint Presentation: Quick Guide. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Giving an Oral Presentation. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.