One of the most common faux pas in medical presentations is making slides that are jam-packed with text.

It might arise out of a desire to make sure students get all the information they need. Or maybe it’s just quicker and easier to put everything on a slide rather than summarize the information. As Mark Twain said: “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Whatever the reason, it’s counterproductive. People will take less away from your slide when you put too much text on it. Nobody can absorb a slide that is full of text – people will just simply zone out and not read it. It’s also difficult to keep your place in line after line of text, especially when the font is small (more on that in another post!). When there are too many words on a slide, it’s hard to see the really important points.

Here is an example of a slide with too much text:

ppt busy 3


The same main points can be made with much fewer words:

ppt busy fixed


Of course, after our little talk about PowerPoint backgrounds last week, you’d also want to change that background to something simpler: no need for the darker-at-the-top thing or the weird curvy lines.

You’ll need to remember the full story when you give your talk, because it won’t be all written out on the slides. But that’s good! Nobody likes a talk in which the presenter simply reads the slides. You’d think that would be a rare occurrence – but it isn’t.

A good strategy is to make your PowerPoint slides simple and to the point, and supplement them with a separate handout (not just a copy of your slides, but a written-out summary of your talk). That will relieve some of the stress of not having everything on the slides. The handout will cover everything, even if you forget to say something in lecture.

In simplifying your text, please avoid using abbreviations. In most cases, they just frustrate the audience, because either they have to keep asking you what the abbreviations mean, or (more likely) they sit and stew and feel annoyed. I use the mom rule a lot (for other things too!): if my mom (who is not a medical person) would know what the abbreviation means, it’s okay to use it.

Also: don’t overdo it and use phrases or words that are so sparse as to be meaningless. That is annoying, particularly later, when the student goes back to your slides and can’t figure out what a bullet point means.

Bottom line: Simplify. But not too much. I like this quote, which is derived from a longer Einstein quote: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”