Learn actionable design tips including how to design clear, professional figures to tell a compelling story to your audience, prepare effective slide decks for your project progress meetings and presentations, declutter your diagrams for presentation-ready figures and more!
Why presentations are important
As scientists, presenting our researchis an important part of what we do, whether it's to our own team, to other departments, at conferences, or presenting our project progress to leadership. It's a critical part in making sure that our work is understood and to make sure that we're making well-informed decisions regarding the direction that we want to take our research in.
The challenge here is that the people that we present to often have too much to do and too little time to do it in. This means that we have a limited amount of time to make sure that our audience can clearly understand our message. That's what these tips are going to address.
About the presenter
Tim is a science communication and customer success manager at BioRender. He’s a scientist by training and did his undergrad in biochemistry before getting a PhD in pharmacology and therapeutics.
It was during Tim’s time in research where he experienced many of the challenges that all of you likely face on a day-to-day basis when you're going to create figures for your work. Tim joined BioRender because he wanted to help scientists avoid the same problems and struggles that he had to go through and show that there's an easier way to create figures that accurately represent their work.
Hardware/software tips to engage your audience
The really big thing here is regarding audio quality. With many of us meeting regularly over Zoom and presenting virtually, we might not always stop and think about the equipment that we're using to present.
Audio quality can really make or break your presentation. And so here's sort of a rough ranking of audio quality for different types of microphones:
- From worst to best: Airpods, laptop, some gaming headsets, stand alone mics, standard headset.
And what might be surprising for everyone are where gaming headsets and airpods fall in the spectrum. These are optimized to give really good sound but not always optimized for their microphone quality. [Live demo in the recording 8:45-10:25]
The message that we want everyone to take away here is to ask a friend or a colleague to test your audio or even record yourself speaking with different microphones and then play it back to see what it's like. It can get you a good sense of how your audience hears you.
With everyone having so little time, you want to make sure that you remove as many obstacles or barriers from your audience understanding your message, and audio quality would be one of those first things that you can easily address.
Design tips for slide decks
Since every presentation topic and length will vary, it's difficult to give tips here. There are some overarching tips that are applicable to any sort of presentation.
Before we get into what we should be doing for our slide decks, let's talk about things that we shouldn't do:
- Avoid gradient backgrounds - Difficult to do tastefully, and makes it difficult to read. Creates inconsistent legibility
- Avoid drop shadows - creates a 3D effect that can be distracting and draw attention towards the shadows and away from the main message of your slide.
- Avoid harsh colors (like a bright yellow font) - reserve bright colors for things you truly want to highlight because it makes it stand out from everything else in the slide.
- Avoid decorative bullet points - creates a dated feel, stick to basic bullets (standard circle or dash) for a more modern, timeless slide deck
- Avoid ‘serif’ fonts, use ‘sans serif’ fonts instead. It helps your deck look cleaner and more modern. [Examples in video 14:45-15:45]
Aim for a consistency
When you're going to build your slide deck, one thing that you want to keep in mind is to use a consistent feel and look for your deck. Even if you’re using different layouts, consistency in colors and fonts is an easy way to create a cohesive slide deck.
Formatting your last slide
We often spend a lot of time on that last slide Ex. During a Q&A discussion, the last slide is often left on the screen. To make sure that you're maximizing the opportunity that you have with that last slide, you can do things like include contact information, kudos, and other relevant information that you really want your audience to walk away with.
When using logos, try using a white background.
There will be times where you have a slide that has a bunch of different logos from collaborators, other organizations that have contributed to the work, etc. It's not always easy to find their logos with a transparent background. You might end up with a mix of files, some with a transparent background, some without. Rather than having to find a transparent background for every single one of these files, use a white background behind everything. This will help you save time searching for the appropriate file and make your slidedeck look cleaner.
Split up large figures into multiple slide decks
What you might be tempted to do is take the figure that you're using for a paper or for another project and stick it directly into your presentation. What we recommend instead is to split it up. It gives you a lot more room to work with, making each panel a bit easier to read. And it allows your audience to focus on that one panel that you’re discussing at the moment.
Design tips for slide figures
Start with a template
Templates are really great for giving the background information for your talk if you need to catch your audience up or if they're maybe from a different field or a different department. BioRender templates are fully editable and made up of individual icons available within the icon library, so you can quickly and easily customize them to fit your own presentation. [View our template library]
Always check the contrast of your figure
One of the more common mistakes that we see with figure making is that the figure isn't legible because elements are fading into each other. Make sure that there's enough contrast between your foreground elements and your background elements. And the best way to do that is to convert your figure into black and white to take a look at the contrast [Try the grayscale toggle in BioRender].
If there are elements that blend in or begin to disappear, that's your cue to go back in and change the darkness or the lightness of these elements to have them stand out more. Try to pick colors that won’t get washed out on projectors or a screen.
Ensure you have an appropriate text size to slide size ratio
When you're at home or when you're presenting remotely, you can probably get away with a slightly smaller text size because everyone has their own monitor or their own computer, and if things get a little bit small, you can always just lean in a little bit. But for in-person meetings and presentations, that's not going to work as well.
It's not necessarily that absolute font size, but it's that ratio of the font size against the size of your deck. Check the slide preview to ensure the elements are the appropriate size for your slide. If you’re presenting in person, especially for larger conferences or you have a very big audience, try to go into the room ahead of time and load up your slide deck to make sure you’re able to read everything even if you’re at the back of the room.
Highlight the important elements
Highlight the important elements of your figure first. Try using a zoom-in to focus on the key elements of your figure instead of increasing the size of everything on your canvas. [Try the zoom-in icon in BioRender]
Break down complex figure into steps
Instead of having one big image, you can also break down the steps into different slides to help build the story and make it easier for your audience to follow.
When you go to present your figures, oftentimes, you're going to have very complex illustrations to present. If you’re going to talk about a specific pathway in the figure, for example, your audience might actually be looking at other pathways in the figure.
Try to make the illustration come together in a step-by-step format. If you have multiple slides all showing the completed figure, make each highlight a part of the story individually. By walking your audience through the story, it allows them to follow everything and it's a smoother flow as opposed to having them absorb all the information at once.
“Presenting our work is an important part of what we do - it’s a critical part of making sure our work is understood and to make sure that we’re making well-informed decisions regarding the direction that we want to take our research in. The challenge here is that the people we’re presenting to often have too much to do and too little time to do it in. And what this means is that we have a limited amount of time to make sure our audience clearly understands our message.” [5:48-6:28]
“Don’t be afraid to let your colleagues know if their audio quality isn’t great because it really does take away from the message they’re trying to deliver and with everyone having so little time, you want to make sure you remove as many obstacles and barriers from your audience understanding your message and audio quality is one of those things you can easily address.”
“What you might be tempted to do is actually take the figure that you’re using for a paper or another project and just stick it directly into your presentation. - Instead, what we recommend is to split it up into different slides mainly for legibility purposes.”
“When you go to present your figures, oftentimes you're going to have many very complex illustrations to present. - make sure that your audience’s attention is where you want it to be.”
“I was definitely in the on slide per minute camp for a long time until a colleague of mine was saying if you want to keep your audience engaged, it’s actually better to have more slides that you spend less amount of time on”