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Preparing a scientific presentation? Read this first.

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![bra_divider height=’40’]

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!


  • J
    Posted 04/19/2013 11:58 am 0Likes

    Blue (especially dark blue) with yellow text is the most readable combination. Eye fatigue is worse with black text on white.

    • ikumikayama
      Posted 04/19/2013 1:36 pm 0Likes

      Hi, thank you for the comment! I learned that Blue/Yellow combo was the go-to color combination for slide projectors for the contrast reasons as well. Blue/yellow slides have quite a history. I am looking forward to more research on the slide projector colors.

      I generally advise against them because though the blue/yellow have good contrast, from a color theory perspective they are not the best colors to be seen together. Also when using images/photos, the blue background usually clashes with the images.

      Thanks again for your input. I really appreciate it! let me know what you think.

  • wilnesse dericer (@omega752000)
    Posted 06/26/2013 6:00 pm 0Likes

    i think blue and yellow are great together in presentations (or art) its just how the color is used plus composition plays a key role.

    • ikumikayama
      Posted 07/02/2013 7:43 am 0Likes

      Thanks for the note and your input! I agree that blue and yellow can look pretty, as long as they are used properly. All colors are subjective, and everyone has different preferences.

      The problem is that blue/yellow presentations usually clash colors with added graphics/photos within the presentation.

      Also, after I see 3-4 blue/yellow presentations at a meeting, I start mixing the presentations in my mind. That’s no way to stand out. I compare this to picking out one classic Scooby Doo cartoon from the pool of very similar stories.

      Again, thanks for taking your time to leave a note!

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  • Huh?
    Posted 12/23/2017 12:44 am 0Likes

    I agree with you about blue-yellow contrast. But the title of this post is “10” tips about powerpoint, and the first image says there are downloadable tips somewhere… But there’s only #1 and no #2~#10.

  • Jose M Prieto
    Posted 07/11/2018 10:01 am 0Likes

    Dear IKUMIKAYAMA, you are totally right, the blue background with yellow typography is obsolete and comes from the age of slides.

    A couple of points for the above fans of blue/yellow:
    – Only people that started with slides are still presenting to audiences with this combination, merely because they eventually digitised their old slides into images and still recycle them. I am not saying is wrong, but in the same way fonts have change a great deal over the 20th century, the way of communicating has totally changed in the 21st. You look old, you like it or not.
    – Eye fatigue comes from reading a zillion slides containing BLOCKS of text in tiny size to squeeze what you do not want to memorise. No matter the colors, you kill the audience with text. It is not a BOOK is a MULTIMEDIA presentation, so exploit graphs, images and icons, use little text with 24 points size and you will see how people engages more with what you say.

  • Steave John
    Posted 06/17/2019 2:47 am 0Likes

    Whilst you are creating a PowerPoint Presentation, colours plays a vital function. it is able to impact the way your target audience perspectives your presentation and how much statistics they may be capable of draw close. How unique shades engage with one another and how you operate them could have a massive impact on the appearance of your presentation.

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