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I prefer pretty minimalist slides. One idea (or sentence) per slide, plus an illustrative picture if possible (or even better: just the picture, no text!). No animations or other gimmicks. Not too many slides (like, one per three minutes of presentation time).

Kevin Doherty

I don't include much text in my PowerPoints. Instead I include different kinds of charts as visual aids to help an audience keep the structure of my verbal and written whiteboard content organized. PowerPoint has built in SmartArt templates that are useful for this. I learned this way of making PowerPoints from a professor that I TA'd for. She transformed the way I think about PowerPoints in the classroom. PowerPoint also has themes you can select with well-matched colors.

The exception: I use text in PowerPoint for in-class activity instructions.

As for font: any sans-serif is probably good, I stick with Calibri too.

Font style: black or white, depending on the background. I once heard that good design maxes out at three different fonts in a given visual--but different sizes, bolding, italicizing, etc., each count as a different font. So if you have a bigger title and smaller body text, you're already at two different fonts. If you bold one word, you're at three. Any more than three fonts, and the meaning of each one is diluted. (This is hearsay, but I stick to it.)

Bill Vanderburgh

I highly recommend the book _Presentation Zen_. Many, many good points, including using images and keeping text per slide to a minimum. (He says six words per page max--I've never been able to do that).

The very best point the author makes is that too many presenters try to make their slides fill too many roles. He points out that (1) handout summaries for the audience to take away, (2) presentation notes for the speaker, and (3) visual aids for the presentation, are separate things. Slides should only be the latter. Trying to do all three results in a Frankenstein mash-up he calls a "slideument." This is the source of Death by PowerPoint.

Other things to keep in mind are attention, cognitive overloading, and accessibility. Clutter, mixed fonts and colors, talking while asking audience to read a passage, etc., are all no-no's. Best readability (especially in a room that isn't perfectly dark) is a white sans serif font in large point size on a black background. Don't use red or green for emphasis since many people are color blind to those colors.

My favorite Pp trick is that if you hit the period button while in presentation mode, it blacks the screen. You can do this to pause and have the audience focus on you instead of the slides for a few minutes. Good for discussions or to draw attention to something.


I agree with others about minimizing text. PowerPoint recently added "Design Ideas" (you can find the button in the upper right corner of the Home ribbon), which autogenerates ideas for slide organization, graphics, etc. based on the text you put on the slide. It makes by far the most aesthetically pleasing PowerPoints I've ever been able to come up with.


+1 to rutabgagas - I think aesthetically my slides are way better after using this feature.

I will say that it tends to automatically put the font at a size that is, I think, too small, especially if you're following the guideline to use not very much text. Maybe there's some way to change this, I haven't really investigated.

Alex Grzankowski

I think keynote makes much nicer looking presentations. Find images that are all of a theme and find hi-res images. In my view, don’t use pictures of philosophers… overdone and somehow cringe. Keep the text minimal (which requires knowing what you’ll say even without text prompts).



While it's dated (by Internet standards), meant more for corporate slide decks, and its point could be made in fewer than 20 minutes, I still think that this TedX talk by David Phillips (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwpi1Lm6dFo) is useful for really feeling the difference between effective and ineffective slide presentations.

Just Dr

Try not using slides at all?

I have taken to only using PowerPoint slides if I have visual information I need to display. And I mean need. Like decision matrices for decision theory, or EU calculations. No helpful illustrations that confuse as many audience members as help.

Philosophy is by and large not a visual discipline and I think we've just assumed that we should follow the norm of using slides without asking if they help us.

Try giving a talk with a really minimal handout and no slides and see how much more attention the audience pays to what you actually say.

Lord Acton

Power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.

Peter Finocchiaro

I don't disagree with what everyone has said so far. But I think it's worth being mindful of the contextual nature of these best practices. In particular, the point about the extremely minimal use of text is best understood in a presentational context where everything that is being said is being heard. But that's not always true. Your audience may include people who are hard of hearing, struggle with their English-language listening skills, or something else. In those contexts, some extra text can help avoid miscommunication.

To give a memorable example to illustrate this point: one day I was lecturing on collective responsibility and made an off-hand metaphorical distinction between the "brains", "brawn", and "bystanders" of a group action. Fast-forward a few weeks later, and I'm reading a paper that talks about the responsibility attributable to the group's "brown"!


Will have to say, I'm a find some of the advice above re: minimizing the use of text and using images quite horrifying. Maybe it's just me, but I would prefer simply listening to the speaker than watch a ppt presentation with mostly unrelated images. Also, I can't see how students could use something like that for studying in a class context.

Deebo Samuel

The "too much text" problem can be mitigated by using animations where you reveal text on the slide only when you need it. So you don't hit the audience with all your text all at once. You slowly reveal it. And it's clear that the most-recently-revealed text is the most salient at any given moment in the presentation.


There are times when one should use more than the minimal amount of text. I will name two such times. First, I often speak to people - students and colleagues - who are not first language English users. It helps them if I have more text. Then they can follow my talk more readily. Second, if you are a speaker whose first language is not English, but you are speaking to an English speaking audience - especially if you have a strong accent - you should put more text. I heard someone with a thick French accent (and a distinctive regional accent) talk about Thagard's views on something or other. I think many first language English speakers in the audience could not understand who the speaker was referring to. If they had his name on a slide it would have made a great difference. That is just one small example.

Marcus Arvan

I just want to third the idea that a non-minimal amount of text can be good depending on context, and second Deebo’s point that a good way to mitigate this for audiences is to use animations that post one bullet-point at a time (so that audiences are not overwhelmed). While some talks can work well with minimal text (particularly talks that are not terribly complex, involving only a few major premises, etc.), other talks—such as overviews of an entire book, as well as talks that cover a lot of empirical details—can really require quite a bit of text. I also think that distributing your sides to participants can help too, as it gives the audience more time to digest things. As an audience member, I get more frustrated when I attend a complex talk but there’s so little text that it’s hard to remember key details or subtle claims and there’s little clear to refer back to in order to recall or get straight on exactly what was said. On the flip side, I love it when speakers distribute their slides, as it's nice to have them to refer to.

Trevor Hedberg

What constitutes a "good" PowerPoint design is going to depend a lot of what it's being used for. Sometimes, a lot of text on one slide is appropriate. If I'm presenting an author's core argument in numbered series of premises leading to the conclusion, I want the entire argument on one slide if possible so that it's clear how all the pieces of the argument lead to the conclusion. A lot of text may also be appropriate if you're highlighting a critical quote from the text and want the whole quote on screen at once. If you're showing a set of data or a graph (e.g., data on homicide rates in the context of a reading on gun control), then it's appropriate to have few words on a slide.

Even so, there is one reason to not be super-text heavy in a teaching context: if your slides are too thorough, students will attempt to use them as a substitute for actually doing the course readings. This means some short-answer responses may be little more than copied portions of the PowerPoint slides. This rarely translates to strong answers, and it doesn't encourage the students to do the kind of independent thinking that philosophy courses typically require.


As a follow-up to Bill, you generally want to avoid using color at all for emphasis, not just avoiding reds and greens. There are several types of color blindness that can render different types of color combinations and color contrast levels difficult to read. You should bold or italicize text for emphasis.

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