Chapter 29 Designing Presentations

This Chapter contains a number of tips for designing a presentation. If you follow this workflow, the process of designing the presentation provides you with the most important bit of the presentation: a narrative. This approach views slides as visual backup for a presentation: they support your story, and as such, are designed to support your audience understand the points you make.

Presentations are basically conversations. Not so much dialogues as monologues, but still. It’s not, in essence, different from speaking with a colleague or a friend over a coffee. You will explain something to your audience; sometimes to persuade them, other times hoping they learn something; and normally, something they will not yet know.

The foundation of your presentation is that something. Therefore, start by having a clear idea of what you want to tell your audience. What do you want them to be persuaded of, or remember? These things are the important things; the entire presentation will be built around these things. These things are your goals, and everything else in the presentation should be in service of achieving those goals.

It follows from this that often, the typical structures you see around you are not the best tools for the job. For example, scientific presentations often follow the ‘introduction, methods, results, discussion’ structure (let’s call it the IMRD structure). However, that’s often not the best tool to achieve your goals, and if it isn’t, don’t use it.

One the one hand, this is nice because it frees you completely. On the other hand, that may seem scary at first. With great power, after all, comes great responsibility. I’m confident that you’ll find that the freedom to use the structure that works best for your story helps you to remember the structure of your presentation.

With typical IMRD structures, designing a presentation becomes basically an exercise in filling in the blanks. You’ll basically ask yourself “what should I tell in the Methods section?”, and at a more specific level, “what should I tell about the measurement instruments?”. This is hardly a creative and exciting endeavour. If instead the questions you ask yourself are “what does my audience need to understand before they understand my first point” and “how can I naturally connect my first point to my second point”, you’re thinking much more from the perspective of your audience.

This approach means that you may conclude that there are a few results that you think are really exciting or important; or maybe some methodological aspects of the study; or maybe some implications for practice. It may even be that the study you present itself is not very exciting, but the reasoning leading up to it, is. In that case you may want to reserve most of the time for that reasoning, and be more brief about the methods and the results.

In fact, once you drop typical structures, it doesn’t matter any more whether you present an empirical study, or an idea, or anything else. The structure becomes a function of whatever works best for your presentation, which means that you always have a structure, even if you present something that doesn’t fit the IMRD structure at all.

  • On the first slide, include the link to the GitLab and/or OSF repository where your audience can find your data, analysis scripts, et cetera.

  • If possible, also upload the slides there (or elsewhere and link to there), so that your audience doesn’t have to take pictures or notes of what’s on your slides.

  • You can create QR codes for URLs to facilitate people visiting them during your presentation, for example using

  • Slides are support for your audience, not for you. Slides are not a tool for you to remember what you should tell people at a given slide. If you follow these tips for designing the presentation

  • Less is more: refrain from adding images or animations to your slides to make them look fun. Instead, make the content that is already on the slides fun and engaging.