1. says

    So true… and nicely illustrated :-)

    I recently bought Rick Altman’s self-published book “Why most powerpoint presentations suck” and I heartily recommend it to anyone. Even for people whose PPT and public speaking skillz are already pretty good, or reasonable enough, because a) the descriptions and examples of what not to do are quite entertaining (and often cathartic), and b) because it’s always possible to improve, and a little bit of self-awareness goes a long way.

  2. says

    I don’t mind a busy acknowledment slide as long as the speaker doesn’t read every name aloud.

    My biggest pet hate in presentations is when people start with a “talk outline” slide. Total waste of time, just get on with it. Even worse is when they refer back to it between each section. If the audience was given the option of walking out immediately after the outline slide, then it’d be acceptable.

  3. lylebot says

    My biggest pet hate in presentations is when people start with a “talk outline” slide

    Even worse is when the “outline” slide just says:

    1. Introduction
    2. Methodology
    3. Experiments
    4. Results
    5. Conclusion

    As if the boundary between those things isn’t clear.

    (I once sat through saw four talks in a row that did this.)

  4. Jack Rawlinson says

    I object in the strongest possible fashion to the suggestion that Her Royal Majesty, the monarch of my proud and noble nation, is dull.

    Oh wait. No I don’t.

  5. says

    My biggest pet hate in presentations is when people start with a “talk outline” slide.

    I don’t how it is where you are/work, but personally, I’ve walked out of presentations when shown this slide… because the outline showed that the talk was not going to be what was advertised, or at least not what was expected**

    It happens often enough that I am glad most people put in such a slide. It’s much less disruptive to walk out on slide #2 than it is to walk out on slide #38 of 70.

    However, if you want to talk about irritating powerpoint tricks:

    1. Animation on a slide that presents simple concepts. I don’t need to see the text scroll in sideways or any of that bullshit. Present the bullet points, talk to them, and move on.

    2. Presenter reads the slide. I can read, I don’t need the presenter to read the slide verbatim. I expect illustration and talking points on the slide. Narrative I expect from the speaker. If the speaker is just reading the slides, I ask for the powerpoint to be emailed to me and walk out.

    3. The Joke Slide. Yes, someone wrote in “Presentations for Dummies” that every presentation must start with a joke to break the ice. Fine. Don’t put the damn joke in the slide deck please. Particularly if your joke is going to be risqué in some way…

    ** I once attended a talk given by a friend of mine entitled “STDs in the Canadian Forces” and advertised for a couple weeks. Now “STDs” to most people means one thing… in the military, however, “stds” is also an abbreviation for “standards” (as in administrative, training and logistical standards). So try and imagine a room full of administrative officers, logistics wogs, and a handful of doctors, nurses and interested parties… My colleague flashes up the title slide followed by the talk outline. Easily the hearts of 3/4 of the room skip a beat because they suddenly learn the talk is about naughty bits and festering disease. Let’s face it here… military administrators are not known for their liberal, open-minded attitudes. Oops. I wish I’d had a camera for the look on people’s faces, definitely a Kodak moment that would have been lost forever if there wasn’t an outline slide. Also, it gave the opportunity to clear the room of the squareheads as they clamoured for the door.

  6. says

    As a relatively hirsute, swarthy, and sudoriferous individual, I demand that this discrimination against us Sweaties end.

    My axilla–which somehow produce a continuous spring of moisture from my body despite a diet entirely consisting of diuretics–should be studied as a possible boon to humankind rather than feared, maligned, and shot at by redneck farm kids.

    Terry Talks will be hearing from our lawyers about this.

  7. says

    Hey Paul – Thanks for the link.

    Brownian: If it helps, “Aggressive Sweating” almost didn’t make the cut. Initially, we were going to go with vomiting, but the Flickr images available were just too nasty.

  8. Sili says

    I usually just mumble …

    What I hate, though, is when the poor sod who has to introduce a lecture – or worse, the lecture themselves – read their title slide. We’ve been looking at the damn thing for the past five minutes! Don’t you think we can bloody recite it backwards while juggling watermelons by now?!

  9. says

    My boss, Prof. Shallremainnameless, ALWAYS uses Comic Sans. Sometimes I think about sneaking into her office and deleting the thing from her Mac’s FontBook.

  10. Stephen says

    My biggest pet hate in presentations is when people start with a “talk outline” slide. Total waste of time, just get on with it.

    No, I disagree on this. An outline slide is often useful to give a quick picture of where the speaker is going, and I’ve certainly seen presentations that would have been easier to follow if one had been provided.

    OTOH I agree with lylebot that some outline slides are pretty superfluous.

    My main hates:
    – Animation without a good reason (occasionally there is one)
    – Four or five different colours of text without a good reason
    – Fifteen lines of tiny text on a slide
    – Graphs with microscopic illegible legends
    – Reading the slide (important citations of another author excepted)

  11. Jacques says

    Ooops, no. Upon further investigation it seems the bs slide was a reference to Cheney. I can lvie with that.

  12. Stuart Ritchie says

    Weird… I’m giving a talk entitled ‘Evolution vs Intelligent Design’ at Edinburgh Zoo this Thursday. How could you have known, PZ?!

    I have taken the advice on board!

  13. j says

    Evolving Squid #9

    I once attended a talk given by a friend of mine entitled “STDs in the Canadian Forces” and advertised for a couple weeks. Now “STDs” to most people means one thing… in the military, however, “stds” is also an abbreviation for “standards” (as in administrative, training and logistical standards).

    This shows another problem. If you’re going to use acronyms, define them first. Evolving Squid’s friend assumed that STD meant something to the intended audience when it meant something else to many of them. As a result, the admin and logistics types had their time wasted because of the speaker’s (or the lecture scheduler’s) failure to adequately title the presentation. It wasn’t the “squareheads” who were at fault, it was the lecturer who made a stupid assumption.

  14. Greg says

    Was that a cropped picture of Al Gore on the “BS” slide? I know, not every chubby white politician is Al Gore, but I’m suspicious.

  15. AllanW says

    It’s an understandable mistake to make on that side of the pond but including the Queen’s Christmas Address as an example of dullness is wide of the mark. It’s never meant to be listened to. It has no real content. It’s just a timing-device on Christmas Day to let everyone in the country know that they should have stopped eating by 3pm and that the kids should go break their new toys while the adults fall into a drunken stupor for an hour.

    Just thought I’d let ya know.

  16. Jen M says

    How I wish I could send a link to this video to every PI where I work. Not to mention the safety office. People here are addicted to Power Point.

    And whats wrong with comic sans? I like comic sans.
    Good thing I don’t give presentations.

  17. Pete says

    Another item to avoid in your public speaking: Grossly stupid ignorant slams of other religions and cultures.
    Got something to say, publicly? Say it with tact, grace,
    and politely, please.

  18. says

    Got something to say, publicly? Say it with tact, grace,
    and politely, please.

    Okay. What’s a tactful, graceful, and polite way of describing someone as a death-cultist pedophile enabler who believes everyone else should adopt his/her wishful thinking on pain of torture (now or in the afterlife)?

  19. says

    Comic Sans MS. You got to hate that font. Too bad the cell biology institute at my university doesn’t seem to have seen this video…

  20. David Marjanović, OM says

    Yep, I’ve seen plenty of university lectures that were in Comic Sans.

    That’s because of the “Sans” part. Before PPT 2003, the default font was Times New Roman, which sucks like a sperm whale, because all the thin parts of the letters become invisible when projected. Therefore smart people use a sans-serif font instead.

    Since PPT 2003 the default font has been Arial… At last!

  21. Qwerty says

    Just to hear the other side, I am listening to a Kent Hovind lecture on YouTube.

    Talk about DULL! At least his opponent makes sense.

  22. Steve_C says

    And tons of really bad slides in that Hovind presentation. He talks too fast, oh and he lies the entire time.

  23. Jason Dick says

    Nice :)

    I rather liked the comment about “unnecessary math”. I’ve been to way too many physics talks that had far, far too much math. I’m sorry, but there is no reason to ever have an equation that stretches across the entire slide, even in a physics talk. You can get the point across without all of the nitty gritty details, thank you very much.

  24. says

    It wasn’t the “squareheads” who were at fault, it was the lecturer who made a stupid assumption.

    I can’t disagree, and we may never know for sure, but I’ve often thought that the choice of title may have been deliberate to provoke the kind of reaction that was ultimately achieved.

  25. says

    What’s a tactful, graceful, and polite way of describing someone as a death-cultist pedophile enabler who believes everyone else should adopt his/her wishful thinking on pain of torture (now or in the afterlife)?

    “devout Catholic”

  26. Ivan says

    I want to second the “whats wrong with Comic Sans?” question (and “you gotta hate it” is not a good answer). My bosses talks are all in Comic Sans and since we swap a lot of slides back and forth, my talks are in Comic Sans. I don’t have strong feelings pro or con, but if I’m going to go through the trouble of changing every freaking slide, I want to know why I am doing it.

  27. Psi Wavefunction says

    No wonder the UBC website was so slow today — we got Pharyngula’d! XP

    Why do I find out about this here of all places?

    Reminds me of spending nearly 30-40h working on a 12min talk (my first one) this summer. I wage wars on excessive text; my supervisor takes this one step further: state conclusion of slide in title, pretty (relevant, of course) pictures for the rest, no other text. At all. (thankfully our research constists of sexy microscopy work). My FSM was that ever emotionally distressing, the preparation for that talk…

  28. Nan Mcintyre says

    Hi Ivan #34

    I want to second the “whats wrong with Comic Sans?” question (and “you gotta hate it” is not a good answer).

    It’s a question a presenter should ask about anything visual, isn’t it.

    The consensus from those who want it banned is that it’s both used inappropriately, and that it’s ubiquitous.
    Its wide acceptance as a font that conveys informality and friendliness, as distinct from the formal typeface style fonts such as, say, Times New Roman, has annoyed those who are aware of the artistic differences between fonts.

    In particular, the Mac community enjoys knowing that their systems have more artistic font resources than other systems and loves to denigrate the majority who both use Windows and have taken up Comic Sans with love.
    There is a general prejudice that Comic Sans = Church newsletter/unexamined prejudices.

    There is another very popular font: Helvetica. It’s not available in default Windows systems and is available by default to OS X users. OS X users like Helvetica a lot.
    The prejudice about Helvetica is that it is neutral.

    This page with a brief description of the original design brief for it and a set of slides for a talk by the Comic Sans designer may give you a little more insight into the visual arguments about Comic Sans.

    You may want to avoid Comic Sans if you don’t want to alienate a single member of your audience.
    However, you may then have to decide on a font that is as friendly and widely accepted. Helvetica may remind too many of the audience of street signs and public notices, authority stuff: stuff with not much information that you walk past quickly.
    An unusual font could make your visual presentations more memorable.

    I am a font collector and won’t use Comic Sans, Helvetica or Crimes New Roman if I can avoid it.

  29. Ivan says

    Hi Nan @35-

    So which font do you use? Aesthetics of fonts just aren’t something I pay attention to. Which font won’t offend anyone in my audience?

  30. Nan McIntyre says

    Hi back Ivan #36

    My comments were supposed to be sort of light-hearted.
    I use non-standard non-default fonts and any recommendation would be pretty useless because it probably won’t be found on the computer you use for your presentation … and so would likely default back to Comic Sans or Helvetica anyway :-)

    If you don’t want to worry about aesthetics, then for projecting slides in general situations, choose any font you like the look of that’s legible at the size it’s getting projected – – don’t forget that pdf files of them should be legible too.
    Then try and get the rest of your organisation to change the default for powerpoint stuff away from Comic Sans.
    Good luck ;-)

    I generally have a nap as soon as the lights go down for a presentation.
    Unless the speaker is compelling.

  31. Kitty says

    I’ve never understood the problem with Comic Sans but that’s because it is a very useful tool when writing out work sheets for children who are learning their letters.
    My daughter uses it a lot with autistic children and finds the simplicity of the letter forms enables them to read printed words where more complex fonts are misunderstood. Look at the low case ‘a’ as an example.
    So, although I would not use it as a font of choice for most writing, it is the only font available for most Windows users who want to make reading easy for young children or those with special needs.
    Helvetica is a good font for labelling illustrations like maps as it is also very clear but Comic Sans is better for the Primary classroom.

  32. antaresrichard says

    Uh, a thing to avoid when making public service announcement: reflexively smothering it with a musical soundtrack.

  33. Adrian Burd says

    Comic Sans? Ariel? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

    Comic Sans has a few (very few) legitimate uses in typography (see the comments by its designer (Vincent Connare). It is not really a good choice for a font for presentations. It’s too informal, the availability of special characters makes it problematic in that one often has to use multiple fonts within a slide, and to my mind, it just does not project well at all.

    Ariel is, to be polite, a poor knock off of Grotesque with modifications to make it appear like Helvetica. It does not have the clean lines that Helvetica does.

    The biggest issue with these fonts and Powerpoint is kerning – how many times do you see words on the slides with uneven spacing between the letters? That’s a kerning problem.

    What are good choices? Typographically speaking, sans serif fonts are generally (though not always) better than serif fonts because the serifs get lost in the projection.

    Another important typographic consideration is that fonts used on Powerpoint slides are generally 24-48 point fonts. Fonts are generally designed to be used within specific size ranges, and using a text font at 24 points or larger destroy the design elements of the fonts. For those with a Mac, compare Big Caslon at 48 point with Times at 48 point and you’ll see what I mean. Sadly, unless you have fonts specifically designed to be used at large sizes on your machine, you’ll always have typographically bad looking slides. You can get away with things like Ariel because of the lack of significant variations in line width.

    The font I use for all my slides at the moment is Cronos Pro.

    Adobe used to (and still may) produce a series of fonts for academic use. The collection was spectacular and cost on about $90. Cronos Pro was one of the fonts included. It comes in sets (Display, Caption, Text etc) specifically designed for use within different size ranges. It’s a font designed by Robert Slimbach (one of Adobe’s top designers) though it is pretty much a copy of another font (whose name escapes me at the moment).


  34. MarkW says

    Comic Sans is fine for working with children, in other contexts… not so much.

    Presumably you’re trying to make a good visual impact with your presentation. Comic Sans is like turning up to deliver the lecture in a clown outfit.

  35. Steve says

    The Queen is supposed to be dull. The Americans got rid of the monarchy by a revolution. The English just nudged the monarch little-by-little into oblivion. The day the Queen/King starts to do something inetresting, there will be trouble.

  36. says

    When you get old and your eyes start getting feeble, slowly but in humiliatingly unpredictable increments, you’ll come to appreciate Comic Sans.

    Society for the Defense of Comic Sans meets at my place for beer at 9 PM PDT tonight! Bring your own pretzels.

  37. Aquaria says

    Man, I fucking hate powerpoint, and slides in general. For some reason, a lot of MBA type idiots are really impressed with that crap.

    I had to teach a class periodically to incoming employees at the USPS, and I used slides as reference points not the entirety of the class. I was big on class participation and teaching them how the stuff would pertain to the job they were about to do, things the “lesson plan” and slides didn’t cover. The only good thing from the slides, really, was how I got huge laughs with a certain anomaly in them. For years after that, my “grads” would come up to me and say, “I’ll never forget the sex change slide from that class you taught!”

    Funny, I taught the damn class I don’t know how many times, and it’s the thing I remember most from it, too!

  38. Alan B says

    So, Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain is “dull”.

    She is 82 years old. She is not a flash chick with an MBA looking to excite people every time she speaks. She is the focal point of a democracy which introduced the Magna Carta and parliamentary democracy.

    She is the queen of 16 independent states with a combined population of nearly 200 million people and traces her personal lineage in part back through the royal houses of England, Wessex, and Scotland for over fifteen hundred years.(Wiki but still true!)

    The Queen parallels the Flag of the United States of America as the symbol of her country and all it stands for. Do you want the Stars and Stripes to be consistent, dependable, stately, or do you want it to be red, white and blue one day but orange, puce and fluorescent green with animated sripes and flashing stars on others so that it does not seem “dull”?

    We have an expression, “Horses for Courses”. If you want to provide a unique teaching experience for young children use comic sans and multicoloured (sorry, -colored) animated slides. If you want to represent the historic continuity of a great nation choose your Flag or Queen Elizabeth II of the UK.

    P.S. For us, however, being dull is about the worst thing we can do.

  39. Jack Rawlinson says

    “So, Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain is “dull”. She is 82 years old”

    I fail to see the relevance of her age, Alan. Look at old footage of her speeches. She was always that dull. She’s just staggeringly bad at public speaking. It’s one of her many failings – you know, apart from the small detail of being the head of a foul, anachronistic bastion of irrelevant privilege and unearned, obscene wealth.

  40. Alan B says

    I am not saying the Queen is not a dull speaker. It is not the place for a constitutional monarch to have flare and charisma and to try to challenge her Prime Minister or other members of her Parliament or Government with clever rhetoric. She is Elizabeth II, not I. She represents more than the day to day (or 4 year by 4 year) cycle of party politics. The monarchy is part of the subtelty of the (unwritten) British Constitution. Unfortunately this is not properly understood and appreciated, even in the UK.

    You seem to have expressed your ‘small detail’ in a way to be deliberately offensive. That is your right. It has nothing to do with whether she is dull or whether this might in reality help in fulfilling her role effectively as a constitutional monarch. It is a view held by few in the UK.

  41. Josh says

    I love my native country (the U.S.) and think its flag is an aesthetic disaster. What’s the big deal? And would the majority of British citizens really be so affronted by Jack’s harsh views on the nobility? Is that still such a big deal to them? What about Barbadians and others of those “sixteen independent states”? The only part of the argument about Her Majesty that I grasp is the claim that it’s tasteless to criticize a frail octogenarian.

  42. Nan McIntyre says

    Hi Ron Sullivan #43

    I’ll bring pickles and Frutiger.
    Becoming also retinally light-challenged as I age, I avoid gadgets with small screens, but when I have to engage with a, for example, pda thrust at me over the post office counter for okaying a receipt, I’m grateful that Frutiger appears to be the MS default for most of their newer portable systems – and for spreadsheets and tables in the newest version of their office suite.

  43. Alan B says

    Hi Josh

    It is not a question of tact and age. As has been so abundantly pointed out her style has not changed. I wonder if there might be a reason for that?

    I have repeatedly been told, “Know your audience”. The Queen knows her’s and it often includes many for whom English is not their first language. When she gives formal speeches of welcome to visiting heads of state she does not use visual aids and powerpoint presentations! Every word is weighed, every phrase is carefully chosen and ennunciated to ensure the right degree of welcome (or otherwise) without giving offense.

    The Christmas broadcast is not limited to the UK. Even here there are many immigrants she would wish to include for whom English is a foreign language.

    You may not like the Queen or what she stands for but at least remember she is a highly experienced (50+ years in the job) professional and may know a little bit more about her role, her audience and what she is trying to achieve.