Top tips for creating exceptional scientific slides

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Woman points at statistics

Slide decks are something of a staple in med comms and come in all shapes and sizes ‒ long, short, simple, and all too often, rather complicated. At Scientific Group we are often tasked with creating eye-catching decks from scratch, or transforming dull complicated slides into punchy, engaging ones that will capture an audience’s attention, and keep it. This can be challenging, even for seasoned PowerPoint users, especially when you factor in diverse therapy areas, products and audiences, and throw the odd tight deadline on top.

So, to help you produce slides that will ‘wow’ your audience and make best use of your time, we have compiled our top tips for creating awesome slides.

Become a PowerPoint whiz

This may sound a little contrived as a starting point, but if you’re sculpting a slide deck worthy of Michelangelo, PowerPoint is your chisel, and you need to know how to use it – the finer details of ‘David’ weren’t crafted with the handle!

Learning the functionality of PowerPoint is an ongoing process, and something everyone who creates slide decks should dedicate time to, no matter their experience. At Scientific Group, we run regular PowerPoint training sessions, both for newer and ‘advanced’ users, and allocate time for ‘tips and tricks’ (for PowerPoint or anything else!) at weekly team meetings.

So get comfortable with those slide masters, advanced animations, shortcuts, and all those other tools that will make the job easier.

Understand the brief

Before you even open PowerPoint, there are some key details you need to establish:

  • What is the aim of the slide deck?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How will it be used and in what setting?
  • How long is the presentation (or, how many slides are needed)?
  • What is the required style?

These questions will help you to understand everything from the language you should use to the best visuals to employ and potential compliance issues that may arise.

Outline!

Whether it’s a full ‘skeleton’ or just a 5-minute sketch in your notepad, if you’re creating a deck from scratch, plan it from start to finish! This will help ensure that you don’t leave out any key information and allow you to order the content so that it flows well and tells a compelling story that’s easy to present.

You might have noticed that we are almost at tip number four and we haven’t even mentioned content! I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to spend real time preparing to start work on a slide deck, and you shouldn’t be afraid to make it known if this is the case. You know what they say about those who fail to prepare…

Consistency is key 

Style guides can be long, boring and tricky to navigate, but they aren’t just there to adorn your desktop. Keep the style guide open for quick reference when working on a deck, and if you have any doubt on style or language, look it up. This applies to the visual elements of your slides as well; ensure graphs and tables are placed consistently on slides, color palettes are adhered to, and image and icon styles match. If you aren’t working with a style guide, it’s up to you to set the standard – pick a way of doing something and stick to it. If you’re working with colleagues on a slide deck, make sure they know to do it the same way too.

Keep it simple 

In med comms, we are regularly tasked with distilling very complex science into clear, straightforward messages. With so much information swirling around, your slides can quickly become dizzying labyrinths, dense with data and festooned with footnotes.

Having too much information on one slide is not beneficial to end users; readers will struggle to absorb messages from slides that stray too far from the key points, while live presenters and their audiences will struggle to read small, cramped text, or even finish reading a slide before it’s time to move onto the next one.

If a slide is looking particularly busy and you’re struggling to find anything that can be cut, consider spreading the information over two slides or splitting up key points. Don’t forget about the speaker notes ‒ unlike your space-limited slide, you can elaborate as much as you like in the speaker notes.

If you’re really in a bind and need to keep every little detail on an overly busy slide, consider techniques to draw attention to the core message of the slide – highlight key data or information, or introduce an animated build that finishes with a simpler takeaway.

Make it visual 

Even if your slides are simple, if you present a deck made up of only titles and bullet points, you will quickly lose the interest of your audience. Choose different ways to present the information on your slides to keep viewers engaged – text boxes, diagrams, flow charts, images, and icons can all help break up text and create visually stimulating slides.

Explore other media for creative ideas

Slides can very easily become formulaic and monotonous. Sometimes that’s a good thing, it lets us easily compare similar data, for example. But you may be looking for something a little more exciting for your slide deck; you have probably heard buzzwords such as ‘sexier’, ‘more impactful’, or ‘something I haven’t seen before’. So, how do you make a sequence of boxes on a screen really come to life?

Look for inspiration in other types of media. This can be anything, from a TV advert to a social media influencer to a newspaper front page (remember those?). A personal favorite of mine is to explore data visualization websites where you might come across the perfect style to spice up your graphs, or even find a new way of looking at the data entirely!

This is also a good way to involve your colleagues – other people on your team might have worked on projects that can guide you, or if you work with a creative team, ask them for their thoughts and where they look for inspiration.

Have someone check your work

Accuracy is perhaps the most important aspect of med comms; and despite our best efforts, we all make mistakes. Having someone else review your work provides a safety net for any errors that may have slipped through. In addition, a reviewer can offer fresh perspectives on your work and may have suggestions on how to improve your approach. At Scientific Group, we use a peer-to-peer review system as well as senior sign-off to ensure accuracy and consistency.

Try presenting it 

If you are going to be presenting your slide deck (or even if you’re not!), you should spend time doing a few practice runs. This will quickly help you pick up how well your story flows, where you might have too much information, or where your supporting slides may be a little sparse and need beefing up. If you can present it to someone, they can help you with this feedback, or, if you’re shy, record yourself presenting and watch it back (while thinking: ‘Do I really sound like that!?’)

Hopefully these tips have got you well on your way to creating that knock-out slide deck, but if you still feel you don’t know your aspect ratio from your elbow connector, perhaps it’s time to call in the professionals at Scientific Group – our team would be delighted to talk to you about all your slide deck needs, and how we can help you.

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