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Jul 27

The Psychology of PowerPoint presentations

PowerPoint: you are feeling sleepy ...

The Psychology of bad PowerPoint presentations

No-one’s professional life has been left untouched, and unscarred, by PowerPoint. Whether it’s overdosing on too much information, seeing too many ‘humorous’ generic clip art graphics, or the creeping guilt when you realise that the entire audience is going to need a stiff drink once you finished traumatising them.

But help is at hand.

A recent study (Kosslyn, Kievit, Russel and Shephard) has investigated other ways in which people unintentionally make slide show presentations unbearable, or as they say: “psychological principles are often violated in PowerPoint slideshows”.

It’s well worth reading in its entirety, (go through the link, you can download the pdf on the right of the screen), and while some of the points may seem familiar, some are quite interesting and even couner-intuitive.

For example, if you are going to angle any of your text, did you know that different parts of the visual cortex are dedicated to processing different degrees? So if you want to make it clear that these points are separate and distinguished, you should make sure they vary by at least 30 degrees to facilitate your audience!

On more a familiar level, if you are worried that people at the back might not be able to read your text, you might be tempted to write IT ALL IN CAPS. However, because the brain recognises patterns as much as individual letters, writing normally can increase recognition. It’s the same reason road signs in the UK are written with upper and lower case. Plus, these days it’s considered shouting!

They cover colour schemes (don’t use blue and red together), how to increase the salience of certain pieces of information, optimise your slides for working memory (don’t use slow fades!) and put your labels a close to their images as possible.

In essence, the paper shows you how to reduce the cognitive strain of watching a slideshow. So have a read, and the next time you come away from a meeting exhausted after an hour of sitting and doing nothing, ask yourself which principles were ‘violated’ and made your brain work too hard!