[Presentation Skills #5] Effective Fonts for Presentations

Serif and Sans-Serif Fonts

Font families are classified according to their appearance: serif fonts, sans-serif fonts, monospace fonts, cursive fonts, fantasy fonts, etc.

Effective Fonts for Presentations

Characters in serif fonts have little projections or ‘tails’ (serif = tail in French) at the end of strokes and line widths that thin out on curves. The serifs guide a reader’s eyes to flow across lines of text. Conventionally, serif fonts are used for smaller text such as blocks of texts in newspapers. Serif fonts are harder to read from a distance. Examples of serif fonts are Times New Roman, Times Roman, Garamond and Palatino.

Characters in sans-serif fonts have more consistent line widths and do not have tails (sans = without in French.) Sans-serif fonts appear clear, fresh and balanced in shape and form. Conventionally, sans-serif fonts are used for larger text such as headlines or text in posters. Sans-serif fonts are the most popular choice for on-screen (TV, computer, etc.) text because of their clarity in display. Examples of sans-serif fonts are Helvetica, Arial, Futura and Verdana.

Fonts for Presentations

  • Sans-serif fonts are perhaps the best choice for presentation design because sans-serif fonts are more legible than serif fonts when projected.
  • With serif fonts, given the limited resolution of projectors, some of the thinner strokes tend to break-up or disappear when projected, especially at smaller sizes.
  • Characters in monospace fonts (e.g., Courier New and Monaco) each occupy the same amount of space. Use monospace fonts for tabulated information or computer console output only.
  • Cursive or decorative fonts easily distract the eye and make a presentation look unprofessional. Use such fonts sparingly in presentations.
  • Avoid using more than two fonts in a presentation; too many fonts lead to inconsistency in visual design.

Font Sizes: Larger the Better

Font size is measured in points. A point represents 1/72 of an inch; text in 72 points prints to text of one-inch height.

The choice of font sizes is dictated by the size of the room in which you will present. Choose a font-size that will make all of your text readable to everyone in the audience. Use font sizes of 32-48 points for slide titles and headings and font sizes of 24-32 points for the rest of the content.

Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication

7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication

In communication, a speaker’s words are only a fraction of his efforts. The pitch and tone of his voice, the speed and rhythm of the spoken word, and the pauses between those words may express more than what is being communicated by words alone. Further, his gestures, posture, pose and expressions usually convey a variety of subtle signals. These non-verbal elements can present a listener with important clues to the speaker’s thoughts and feelings and thus substantiate or contradict the speaker’s words.

The most commonly and casually cited study on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages in personal communication is one by Prof. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California in Los Angeles. In the 1970s, his studies suggested that we overwhelmingly deduce our feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about what someone says not by the actual words spoken, but by the speaker’s body language and tone of voice.

In fact, Prof. Mehrabian quantified this tendency: words, tone of voice, and body language respectively account for 7%, 38%, and 55% of personal communication.

The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent: if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language.

Pre-Wiring Presentations: Preventing Surprise Reactions If a speaker’s words and body language differ, listeners are more likely to believe the nonverbal communication of the speaker, not his words. For example, if a person states, “I don’t have a problem with you!” while avoiding eye-contact, looking anxious, and maintaining a closed body language, the listener will probably trust the predominant form of communication, which according to Prof. Mehrabian’s findings is non-verbal (38% + 55%), rather than the literal meaning of the words (7%.)

I have two arguments against the oversimplified interpretation of the “7-38-55 Rule.” In the first place, it is very difficult to quantify the impact of tone of voice and body language on the effectiveness of communication. Secondly, such quantifications are very subjective and cannot be applied as a rule to all contexts. Prof. Mehrabian himself has cautioned,

“Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like—dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

This study is a convenient—if not accurate—reminder that nonverbal cues can be more valuable and telling than verbal ones. Therefore, to be effective and persuasive in our verbal communication—in presentations, public speaking, or personal communication—it is essential to complement our words with the right tone and voice and the appropriate body language.

Pre-Wiring Presentations to Key Audience for Buy-In

Pre-Wiring Presentations to Key Audience for Buy-In

In “The McKinsey Way,” author Ethan M. Rasiel presents numerous insights to problem solving, analytical reasoning and effective communication practiced at McKinsey and Company, one of the world’s foremost management-consulting firms.

Pre-Wiring a Presentation

Pre-wiring a presentation involves discussing your findings and recommendations with key decision-makers independently ahead of a group presentation. By getting various participants’ buy-in to the contents of your presentation, you ensure their support to your conclusions and avoid surprise reactions and disagreements.

There should be no surprises on the day of the presentation. All the major players should be taken through the solution in private. This way, necessary negotiation, compromise, and new facts that are integral to the acceptance of the proposal will be integrated by the time of the presentation. Pre-wiring removes much of the good to what risk from the presentation and allows the team to shine.

Following the practice of pre-wiring at McKinsey, organizations such as Wipro Technologies have started promoting pre-wiring. See article from Fast Company magazine.

Possible Reactions to a Pre-wired Presentation

  • Pre-Wiring Presentations: Preventing Surprise Reactions If your research is thorough and conclusions are logical, each decision-maker you meet ahead of a presentation may accept the contents of your presentation and agree to support your presentation.
  • During the course of your conversations, you may uncover new details that may compel you to adjust your conclusions. Quite possibly, you may have to negotiate and make compromises in your conclusions.
  • If a key decision-maker raises objections to your conclusions, you may rethink through your entire analysis and develop an alternate solution to the problem at hand.

Benefits of Pre-wiring a Presentation

  • Pre-Wiring: Preventing Blindsiding in Presentations Prevents Blindsiding: Clearly, the biggest advantage of discussing a presentation with key decision-makers ahead of a group presentation is that it keeps you “from getting blindsided by major objections to your solution.” By avoiding surprises, you ensure each participant’s backing to your conclusions.
  • Helps Get Buy-In: Presentations are usually time-constrained. There may not be sufficient time to describe finer aspects of your research, your deductions and recommended actions. Meeting with individual participants can help you supply all the relevant details to each participant, help him/her appreciate how your recommendations may affect him/her and get a buy-in.
  • Develops Perspective: Presenting your findings to individuals allows you to gather additional inputs that help you develop a broader perspective. You may uncover new details that may compel you to adjust your conclusions.
  • Helps prepare for the final presentation and tailor your message to suit the audience.

Concluding Thoughts

Pre-wiring a presentation improves the likelihood that your audience will identify with your approach and consent to your recommendations.

An Essential Secret of Great Speakers: Pauses in Talking

Seven Steps to Better Presentations

Jeffrey Veen of Adaptive Path, and now, Google, lists seven steps for better presentations here. Here is a summary.

  1. Tell stories
  2. Show picture and use good metaphors
  3. Don’t apologize for something out of order or for a mistake.
  4. Start strong
  5. End strong too
  6. Stand away from the podium and out from behind the presenter table
  7. Pause while speaking

Pausing While Speaking

Pause While Speaking Often, speakers and presenters talk quickly—sometimes to an extent that the audience cannot clearly understand the speakers’ words. Perhaps these speakers are nervous. Or, they may be excited about their speeches and hence, are in a rush to express their ideas.

An effective speaker uses lots of pauses in speeches. By pausing after important segments along a speech, a speaker can gather his/her thoughts. And, the audience gets a chance to absorb the contents of the speech.

On the other hand, some speakers tend to be slow, especially if they are contemplative. These speakers quickly lose the attention of the audience.

How to Improve Pausing in Speaking

  1. How to Improve Pausing in Speaking While listening to radio or watching television, observe the speeches of newsreaders, stand-up comedians, broadcasters or background-narrators. Observe how they pause along their talking.
  2. Choose a few newspaper- or magazine-articles and read them out aloud as you would in a speech. At each punctuation mark—a comma, period, semicolon, etc., —pause before you proceed to the next phrase or sentence. Record your speech on a tape-recorder or on your computer (use Audacity software, a freeware) and review.
  3. As you prepare for an important presentation or speech, write down the entire text of your speech with plenty of punctuations. Practice your speech, record and review.

Concluding Thoughts

Audiences typically remember a very small portion of what they hear in speeches and presentations. By using plenty of pauses and pacing yourself, you can improve your ability to articulate and help your audience appreciate your thoughts.

Presentation Skills #4: On Handouts

Presentation Skills: On Handouts

Handouts or takeaways can enhance the core content of a presentation or speech and serve as sources of information for reference and recall. Here are a few guidelines to consider for distributing handouts.

  • As a general guideline, do not distribute handouts prior to a presentation if the audience is likely to become absorbed in the handouts and ignore your verbal presentation. For instance, if you are training college students on interviewing skills, consider distributing your handouts after the seminar.
  • When the audience is likely to be more serious or needs to study charts or illustrations to participate meaningfully, do distribute your handouts before commencing your presentation. Your audience can follow along your verbal presentation and make notes on the handouts.

Handouts for Pre-reading

Presentation Skills: On Handouts Quite often, handouts may also serve as pre-reading material to help the audience study the content beforehand and prepare for your presentation. Suppose that you will lead a presentation for approval of a new steering wheel design. If you distribute a PowerPoint file with illustrations and key features of your new design, the electronics, dashboard, manufacturing and assembly teams can review your design ahead of time. This facilitates brainstorming and informed decision-making during the design approval presentation.

Survey your Audience

Survey the audience prior to your presentation. Depending on the nature of your audience and the purpose of your interaction, distribute handouts when appropriate.

Presentation Tips #3: Compressing Photos in PowerPoint

Suppose you are preparing a PowerPoint presentation with pictures from prototype testing of a design or pictures from your vacation. When you insert pictures into the PowerPoint file, you may realize that the file’s size will balloon with addition of each picture. You may end-up with a large PowerPoint file that may perhaps be difficult to distribute or email.

The reason for larger PowerPoint files is twofold. Firstly, Microsoft PowerPoint may not store picture data in an optimum format. Secondly, while today’s digital cameras can capture pictures at high resolutions (between three to five megapixels per picture,) on-screen display requires pictures of just 96 DPI (dots per inch) resolutions. In addition, typical office-document printing requires pictures of no more than 200 to 300 DPI resolutions.

The more-recent versions of Microsoft PowerPoint facilitate compressing pictures easily to create smaller files.

Compressing Photos in PowerPoint

If you desire to compress a single picture or a group of pictures, highlight the pictures. The Picture toolbar will appear, as illustrated in Figure 1. Now, choose “Compress Pictures” from the Picture toolbar. In the resulting dialogue box, make appropriate selections to execute the command.

Compressing Photos in PowerPoint

If you desire to compress all the pictures in your PowerPoint file, an easier approach involves the “Save As” dialogue. From the menu bar, choose “File” – “Save As … .” In the resulting dialogue box, open the “Tools” dropdown and choose the “Compress Pictures” command, as illustrated in Figure 2.

General Communication Skills #1: Begin at the End

General Communication Skills: Begin at the EndAn effective way to prepare a speech, presentation, report, résumé, or, an email is to begin at the end. Place yourself in the recipient’s or the audience’s shoes and look from the outside in by asking a few questions on the outcome of your communication. Write down all the outcomes you desire from your communication; write down everything that comes to mind without filtering any probable outcomes.

Suppose, for example, you are preparing for a speech. Ask yourself “Who is my audience? What do my listeners want to know? What should be the key take-away messages from my speech? What do I want the audience to remember or do following my speech?”

Once you gather all the intended outcomes, prioritize and collect the core conclusions you intend to present your audience. Then, work backwards: assemble your concepts, anecdotes and statistics that support them, and compose a logical flow of thoughts leading to those conclusions.

The key advantage of beginning at the end is a unique perspective that enables you to control the direction of your thoughts during preparing your communication. Consequently, you can toss out any idea that does not directly relate to the messages you want to deliver.

Communication is all about the audience. Beginning at the end effectively helps you focus on the messages you want to deliver to your audience.

Two Essential PowerPoint Slideshow Tips

‘B’ for Blank Screen, ‘W’ for White Screen

Powerpoint slideshow: Presenter should be the focusDuring a presentation, when you are running a slideshow in PowerPoint, you may want to divert the attention of your audience away from the contents of your PowerPoint slide. When you are answering a question on a topic unrelated to a current slide, you may not want the audience to focus on the illustrations or graphs on your slide. Instead, you may want to be the focus of their attention.

  • If you press the ‘B’ key or the ‘.’ key during your PowerPoint slideshow, the screen will go blank. This will enable you to redirect your audience’s attention to yourself and your talk. When you are ready to continue, press the ‘B’ key or the ‘.’ key to resume the slideshow.
  • Alternately, press the ‘W’ key or the ‘,’ key to display a white screen. Press the ‘W’ key or the ‘,’ key a second time to resume the slideshow.

In general, it is always a good idea to have a blank screen to help get your audience to focus on you when beginning or concluding your presentation, introducing yourself or answering questions. The later versions of Microsoft PowerPoint end with a blank “End of slideshow, click to exit” screen by default.

[Number] + Enter to Transit to a Particular Slide

Powerpoint slideshow: Presenter should be the focusAs with all communication processes, your PowerPoint slides and verbal presentation should consist of a logical flow of ideas and supporting material. Unfortunately, presenters often overlook this necessity.

Presenters habitually transit to a prior slide to show a graph or some data— “As I said in slide four…let me go to slide number four…here it is… .” Alternately, they sometimes transit to a further slide or to a slide in the appendix— “Edward, I am glad you brought that up…in fact, I included a chart in the last slide…let me show it to you now… .”

Moving to a prior slide or a further slide (by using the ‘Page Up’ or ‘Page Down’ keys) can distract the audience. If you must transit to a particular slide, hit the slide number and press ‘Enter.’ Note down the current slide number to use when you want to resume the slideshow. Refer to your handouts or a printout of your slideshow for slide numbers.


  • In the PowerPoint slideshow mode, hit the ‘F1’ key to access a list of keyboard shortcuts you can use during slideshows.
  • My article from November, ‘You, not Your Slides, are Your Presentation,’ offers tips on engaging your audience during public speaking.

You are Your Presentation, Your Slides Aren’t

You, not Your Slides, are Your PresentationLast week, I attended a training seminar where the speaker stood by the side of a projection screen and behind a table where he had his laptop. He hardly moved from his position during the hour-long seminar. He was short and was barely visible from the back of the thirty-people room, as shown in the illustration. Despite his interesting content and compelling arguments, he was physically disconnected from his audience.

One of the common mistakes speakers make is that they regard their slides as the core of their presentation—they give their slides the center stage during their presentations. Sometimes they stand behind a podium or by the side of a projection screen and command very little attention from the audience.

You, not Your Slides, are Your PresentationHere are a few tips to help you engage your audience.

  • Get a handheld or a clip-on microphone and a remote control to advance your PowerPoint or Keynote slides. Walk around the room and establish a positive rapport with your audience.
  • Maintain a relaxed body language and tone, smile and engage the audience in discussions. A relaxed stance and engaging conversations quickly establish your authority over the subject matter and your credibility with the audience.
  • Maintain eye contact with all the members of your audience. Observe their body language for non-verbal feedback to your presentation content.
  • Have a friend or family member attend your presentation and request that he or she observe your non-verbal communication, viz., your appearance, enthusiasm, tone and volume, gestures, eye contact, audience engagement, pauses, and pace of delivery.

As you prepare for your next public speaking assignment or presentation, remember that your slides or handouts just augment your presentation and support your line of reasoning. You are the presentation; you should be the focus.