I’ve been giving and watching medical presentations for more years than I care to count. As a medical student, a pathology resident, a fellow, and now as a professor, I think I’ve seen just about everything, good and bad.

It might seem easy to criticize presentations if you’ve never given one – but once you start doing it yourself, you’ll realize it takes a long time to get things right. I thought I’d save you a few years of struggle and write a series of posts talking about some of the mistakes I’ve seen (and made) over the years and describe how to do things in a better way.

One thing to get out of the way right at the beginning is the design of your slides. I’m assuming you’re going to use PowerPoint; there are other options out there but PowerPoint is still what most people are using so let’s talk about that.

Whether you’re presenting a case for grand rounds, or lecturing to medical students, or even just giving a short talk to your team or group, the information itself should be the thing people focus on. If the audience is getting distracted or frustrated by your slides, they won’t hear everything you’re saying, and your talk will seem less professional.

One of the first things people do when creating a PowerPoint talk is look at all the preloaded templates. When choosing a template, simple is best. Resist the urge to pick anything with:

  • A fancy or complicated  design
  • Weird extraneous lines, textures or patterns in the background
  • Bright or loud colors

A template with any of these characteristics might look cool on your computer, but it will only be distracting and unprofessional when it’s projected on a big screen. Here are some examples of templates not to choose:



The best idea, I think, is to use your own judgement in picking the background and text colors. Screw the templates! You can make your slides way better if you start from scratch.

Since I teach pathology, I show a lot of histologic images, which are best viewed with the lights low (so you can see all the magnificent details). This means that it’s best for me to use a dark background for my text slides so the brightness is somewhat consistent from slide to slide. It would be to jarring to view a nicely stained histology photo and then be faced with a bright white background on the next slide – your pupils would be constantly adjusting.

So for my talks I like a dark (even black) background with white text for the bulk of the slide, and bright contrasting colors for the title and any subheadings. Something like this:

my ppt 1 my ppt 1

The background goes unnoticed, and your eye is drawn to the white text, framed by the bright (but not painfully so) green subheadings. I repeat the orange title on each slide in exactly the same place to make it consistent. We’ll talk about fonts and titles later – for now just focus on making the slide template as simple as possible.

Your situation may be different – you may be giving a talk in a relatively bright room, in which case a white background with black text (still with bright colors for the title and subheadings) would work better.

Bottom line: simplify, simplify, simplify. Simple doesn’t mean low-quality – it just means leaving out extraneous, unnecessary details so that your audience can see and hear what you’re saying.