PowerPoint Tips for the Scientist

PowerPoint Tips for a scientific presentation

If you feel like everyone is taking naps when you speak, these tips are for you.

Almost everyone is a little bit guilty of taking a power nap during a PowerPoint presentation. If you are the one on the podium, though, that’s demoralizing. After all, you spent months writing abstracts and proposals, setting up experiments, gathering data, analyzing data, generating enough material to submit for an oral presentation slot, being accepted, and staying late to put together your PowerPoint presentation.

So why are they napping during your presentation? Didn’t they personally made the decision to come to hear you speak? Consider your slides. Did you put any  thought into designing them? Or did you just use the default, or whatever design everyone else is using?

Take a minute and think back to the last presentation you attended. What do you remember about it? Most likely, there were lots of numbers and some graphs on the slides. The presenter might have used rainbow colors. The last slide showed a sunset, which was memorable because that slide stayed on the screen throughout the Q&A.

I know, because I regularly attend scientific conferences and presentations. Seminars, workshops, you name them. I even take notes during the talk (but I doodle from time to time) and keep seeing the presenters make the same mistakes over and over.  These mistakes are so obnoxious that attendees will talk about how awful it was for years. The talks are supposed to be interesting and informative, right?

Why Design is Important

Presentation slides are visual tools incorporating words and images that are created and developed to accompany a speaker. After all, a picture is worth 1000 words. The question is, is your picture expressing the right 1000 words?

When your slides don’t deliver the right message, your audience tends to become uninterested, confused, or bored. And they won’t remember your presentation if they are uninterested, confused, or bored.

The good news is that it’s not hard to create memorable and effective slides! With just a few simple design fixes, you can set yourself apart and make a memorable presentation that is sure to gain more attention.

Here are the 10 most common design mistakes that ruin a PowerPoint presentation… and the things you can do to avoid them!

Mistake #1: Poor Color Choices

PowerPoint mistake. use bad colors.
When people encounter unpretty things, they either ignore them or pay attention to something else…like their iPhones. Blue/yellow PowerPoints are not pretty! Red/green, yellow/purple, and blue/orange combos are also generally not recommended. Also, a rainbow is beautiful, but not when it’s used in a graph.

So why are the blue/yellow slides all over the place? If you know why, let me know in the comments. What I do know is that PowerPoint was made by computer programmers in the 1980’s. Lots of improvements have been made, but for some reason, blue/yellow presentations have stayed. Unless they are the school colors, I don’t see why people stick with them.  Sure,people don’t like it when things are different, but if you’re presenting something new and exciting, don’t put it on an over-used default!

Here’s my theory on why the blue/yellow Powerpoints are so rampant. In the most basic sense of color psychology and marketing, colors “represent” certain emotions. For example, Red makes you feel energetic and hungry. That’s why many food-related companies use red as part of their logos.

Blue represents calmness and focus. It also has a soothing effect.

Yellow represents openness, promotes communication and brainstorming new ideas.

So here’s what I think happened. I wasn’t there, but my best guess is this: someone looked at this color psychology list and said, “When people are listening to your talk, they need to focus on the speaker and be open-minded.” boom! Out comes a blue/yellow powerpoint slide.

What’s missing from this concept is that while colors do make people feel a certain way, just putting colors together does not make it good. Next time, do this: Pick one central color for your presentation, and create slides around that central color.

Ready for more tips to make your presentation be the most memorable and talked about? It’s easy because 99% of your colleagues don’t know how to do this. Access the reference pdf by signing up today.


Let me know if you have any questions via comments and twitter (@ikumikayama). Looking forward to great talks!

About Ikumi Kayama

Studio Kayama’s Founder, Ikumi Kayama is an award-winning medical & scientific illustrator who helps scientists and doctors how to be heard and understood and how to express the value of what they do through accurate and useful illustrations. Ikumi's mission is to make science relevant and accessible to everyone using accurate visuals. She also gives PowerPoint Design Tip seminars for the scientists and various illustration technique courses for the artists. Come say hello and follow Ikumi on facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, and Google+ .