I train academics, scientists, and researchers on how to create effective (non-boring) slides and be effective communicators. AMA!

Sep 20, 2017

I'd love to help you create better presentations and answer your questions about effective slides. I can answer questions about:

  • slide design
  • using perfect visuals
  • workflow and efficiency
  • powerpoint, keynote, (even prezi),
  • public speaking,

 I have a PhD in community psychology and have delivered about 100 presentations to diverse audiences (students, colleagues, conference attendees, community orgs). I found that a lot of presentation advice is made for business folks, so I've spent 10 years learning how to translate that advice to a teaching and research context.


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What program do you use to make slides?

Sep 20, 1:28PM EDT0

Hi there! 

I use Powerpoint and Keynote pretty much exclusively.

I've used Prezi before (for a couple years), but stopped. And Google Slides and Canva don't have enough of the features I use to make my most effective slides. 

Sep 20, 3:55PM EDT0
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Where do you usually get your background images for the slides you make?

Sep 20, 12:57PM EDT0

Hi Ecner, 

Unsplash.com and Pexels.com are two websites that work for what I do (social sciences). I recommend you check them out. Thestocks.im also has more websites listed where you can get free images. Just be careful of copyright and licensing, because sometimes you need to credit the artist to use photos for free! 

I go into more detail about my efficiency secrets and other websites with free photos available in my free email course, Create Your Visual Database

Sep 20, 3:57PM EDT0
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Have you ever worked as a community psychologist?

Sep 20, 11:26AM EDT0

Hi Jake, 

Yes and no. I am a community psychologist and that is the work I do -- I'm a research associate at a nonprofit evaluation center. 

But I think what you might mean (as others have asked me a similar quyestion) is, am I clinical psychologist who works in a community setting? Most people with a PhD in community psychology are not trained in clinical work, so we aren't psychologists in the way that I think you mean (i.e., we don't do therapy). 

Some community psychology programs are a combined clinical/community programs and train grad students on therapy, but I did not go to that program. 

I go into more detail about community psychology in another answer, if you're interested in learning more!

Last edited @ Sep 20, 6:01PM EDT.
Sep 20, 4:06PM EDT0

Yes, please explain?

Sep 20, 11:40PM EDT0

What mistakes do most people make when they make a slide?

Sep 19, 10:53PM EDT0

Hi Emily, 

There is a clear winner for me: too much text on their slides! 

The easiest and quickest improvement one can make is to reduce the text on their slides, by more than you might expect.

To be more specific, most of my slides have less than 10 words on them and I rarely go above 20. If you have about 20-40 words, you're getting near the danger zone of having too many. Once you hit 50+ more, that's way too much. 

In fact, it's such a widespread problem that I created a scale to help create some common ground about what I mean by "too much text." It's talked about in this blog post, and I created some free video lessons to go into more detail in my free email course, Countdown to Stellar Slides

Last edited @ Sep 20, 7:10PM EDT.
Sep 20, 4:15PM EDT0

Great thanks :)

Sep 21, 5:12PM EDT0

What does a community psychologist do?

Sep 19, 9:08PM EDT0

Hi Nancy, 

That's a great question! It's a field that is highly diverse so there is no one set of activities that people with a PhD in community psychology do. Most don't do clinical work, although there are some programs that are combined clinical/community programs. 

We're a (mostly) research-based arm in psychology. Basically we approach social inequities from a community-based approach. We tend to look beyond individual-level factors when trying to address problems and, instead, seek to improve the community response in ways that will address problems. So, for example, instead of creating a life skills program for people who are homeless (that won't address the systemic problem of homelessness), we'll do research to better understand what community resources or programs would be more effective (e.g., creating more affordable housing), or evaluate programs like Housing First.

Many psychologists are also trained and do work that is community-based. So, we tend to work hard at building relationships with community agencies, so that we can then work together to conduct research/evaluation projects that will help the community solve the problem in a way that fits the local context.

The reason we are still part of the psychology field is because we are also interested in improving the quality of life and well-being of individuals and families. So, we do also study psychological concepts such as those.

But that's just one, small example of a largely diverse field. The Society for Community Research and Action website has a much more thorough description.

Last edited @ Sep 20, 7:06PM EDT.
Sep 20, 4:02PM EDT0

Was there anything in particular that made you choose to become one?

Sep 20, 10:47PM EDT0

When I was in the U.S. Army, we had presentations and classes multiple times a month, which we referred to as "death by powerpoint". How do your presentations differ?

Sep 19, 8:22PM EDT0

Hi Sherry! 

Ahhh yes, "death by powerpoint." I have both experienced it and others have told me about their experiences with it as well! 

The short and simple answer is that "death by powerpoint" happens when:

  • slides are crammed full of text and bullet points
  • lack any visuals (or use ineffective visuals that don't resonate, like puzzle pieces), 
  • lack an engaging storyline, and
  • use little-to-no design or psychology principles to make them easy to follow, which means that they overload the audience's working memory--which overwhelms or confuses them. 

Effective presentations are basically the opposite:

  • Very little text 
  • Effective use of design and psychology principles 
  • Engaging visuals that resonate and help the audience understand the info quickly 
  • Engaging storylines that keep the audience interested 
  • Strategic use of text, visuals, animations, and storylines so that the audience doesn't get overwhelmed or confused
Sep 20, 4:12PM EDT0
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Do you use a lot of fotos in your slides?

Sep 19, 10:20AM EDT0

Hi Kathyrn! 

High quality photos are definitely my #1 go to for effective slides. I use them as much as possible (with a few key words on the slide). Ideally, most slides are just 1 photo, and I make them as large as possible, usually taking up the whole slide if I can.

For a short one-time presentation (less than an hour), that's really easy to do. It's harder to do if you're creating slides for your course, because that's going to involve a lot more time and slides to teach your material. In that case, I recommend starting with good information (text) design, then adding in as many photos as you can. Then just add more photos with each revision you do. 

It shouldn't take too long to add good visuals (especially) photos to your slides. The secret is to create what I call a "Visual Database." I have HUNDREDS of great photos saved so I can add a ton of photos in just a few minutes. If you're interested, I created a free course that shows you how to create your own visual database

Last edited @ Sep 20, 7:12PM EDT.
Sep 19, 12:21PM EDT0

That's a great idea on the visual database.  Did you come up with that yourself?

Sep 21, 7:51PM EDT0

Do you believe that a visual is remembered for a longer period of time than text?

Sep 19, 7:49AM EDT0

Hi Jennifer, 

Absolutely! The best combo to help your audience remember what you say is a great photo + a few key words. 

Sep 19, 12:22PM EDT0

I get very nervous when all eyes are on me and I often forget what I was going to say, do visual help me to prompt?

Sep 19, 6:05AM EDT0

Hi there! 

In terms of being nervous: you may want to check out my answer to Fjenkins' question, where I talk about how I overcame my extreme fear of public speaking. 

In terms of remembering what to say: That's exactly what your slides are supposed to be -- prompts. That can be visuals, but it can also be a *few* key words. Just remember that your speaker notes should not be up on the slides. If people can read your entire presentation, and you don't need to be there, then it's too much text :) 

In terms of remembering what to say, practice is going to be your very best friend. How many times to you practice your presentation? If you're nervous and it's something you're worried about forgetting, then I would start with practicing at least 3 times, but you might need to do it more (depending on how important it is). For example, I practiced my dissertation proposal and defense at least 20 times, not exaggerating. But that's because I was really nervous, and the more I practice, the more confident I feel that I won't forget something. 

But, I also create a backup. I will have my speaker notes in the "notes" section of my powerpoint, and I will print them out. I might have to refer to it a few times here and there, and I just make sure I practice enough so that it doesn't happen a lot. 

I use the notes section in powerpoint (or keynote) because it's easy to type up and print. Some people handwrite their speech on notecards. The key is to find what works for you! 

Sep 19, 12:37PM EDT0

How do you get over extreme anxiety when speaking to large crowds?

Sep 19, 2:19AM EDT0

Hi Fjenkins! 

I relate to this more than you might realize. Back in school, I had such extreme anxiety over public speaking that I would throw up. For real. And that was just to a small class in school! A lage crowd was even worse! 

In fact, my fear of public speaking is how I started to accidentally stumble upon effective communication strategies and engaging presentations. 

I started creating highly visual, engaging, animations-filled powerpoints for my class to *distract my audience*! Basically, I wanted them to stop looking at me, and look at my "wild" slides instead. 

I also practiced my presentation so I had the timing of it perfectly memorized. I sometimes see the advice that you shouldn't memorize your presentation, but honestly it's the only way I was able to get over my anxiety enough to get up in front of people. Having it memorized took away my fear that I'd stand up there and have nothing to say, or say the wrong thing.

Ok, so fast forwarding a little bit...every time I presented and used this strategy, more and more people would come up to me saying things like "wow that was the best presentation i've ever seen" or "wow, you're so good at public speaking!" and "I wish i saw more presentations like yours!" 

I hardly believed them (as I was still terrified of public speaking and convinced they were just trying to make me feel better). But it kept happening...and I would try something new, and I'd get more positive feedback. 

Over years of this happening, and after experimenting with new techniques and getting even more positive feedback, I realized that my confidence grew and I began to enjoy giving presentations! 

That long story basically boils down to this: 

1. I created effective, highly visual and engaging presentations;

2. People said nice things about my presentation;

3. I gained a little bit of extra confidence;

4. Repeat! 

But like I said, it took years beause I was teaching myself how to create effective, engaging, visual presentations. That's why I'm out here trying to teach others like me what to do, so instead of that taking YEARS, it starts happening in few months. 

Sep 19, 12:30PM EDT0
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Do you specialize in presentations in a specific area?

Sep 19, 12:09AM EDT0

Hi Jennifer, 

The principles I teach work for anyone who is in academic, evaluator, or scientist/researcher, regardless of the topic and the purpose (e.g., lectures, conference presentations, community workshops, lab presentations). 

What I don't specialize in is business, advertising, and marketing presentations. So, for example if you wanted to create a pitch deck for an investor, that's not something I specialize in. *However* I have learned about techniques from these fields so that I could take some of their nuggest of wisdom and apply them to the science/research/teaching context. 

Sep 19, 12:16PM EDT0

Do you enjoy public speaking?

Sep 18, 9:59PM EDT0

Hi Fbarrera, 

Ohh, this is kind of an interesting question for me to answer. I enjoy public speaking *now* but I still get a little nervous before I begin. 

If you had asked me this question about 5 years ago, I would have said "absolutely not, I hate it!" 

So it's been an interesting adventure for me, and I talk more about how I got from my fear of public speaking to enjoying it in another answer. 

Sep 19, 12:12PM EDT0
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What qualities must an effective public speaker have?

Sep 18, 3:25PM EDT0

Hi Diana, 

Ohhh excellent question. First I want to debunk a myth that people might believe. Mainly: you don't have to be an extrovert to be an effective public speaker! I am a *huge* introvert, yet I can deliver a fun, engaging presentation/workshop that lasts 3 hours - and I get highly positive feedback. It's just that when I'm done, I need to go take a nap! haha

Now that's out of the way, here is what -- to me -- are qualities of an effective public speaker:

- Flexibility/A "go with the flow" attitude. Things don't always go as planned, or an audience might ask a question that you didn't expect. Don't stress about it too much. 

- A mindset that it is your responsibility to keep your audience engaged

- A willingness to try new things and experiment with new approaches, tech, and ideas 

- Remember that you're not just a presenter, you're a performer -It's not enough to just say a bunch of facts in a certain order. Create your presentations/slides in a way that will make your audience *feel* while you're talking

- Don't talk at people for too long! You only have a few minutes before people tune out. Effective presentations involve the audience somehow, even if it's just asking them to think about something for a few seconds. 

These are not your typical tips for public speaking. I actually don't find a lot of that standard advice to be all that helpful. I even drew a comic and wrote a blog about that. 

Sep 18, 3:54PM EDT0
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Do you advocate a healthy dose of humor while telling a story through presentations? What can I do if my information or subject is highly abtract?

Sep 18, 11:52AM EDT0

Hi Shilpa, 

Oh, definitely, humor is a great tool to use to deliver engaging presentations -- but only under certain conditions: 

1. It comes naturally to you and you don't have to force it

2. Don't tell jokes that perpetuate/reinforce stereotypes or prejudiced attitudes. 

I'm not sure I fully understand your second question. Do you mean how to add humor if your information is high abstract? If so, then what I do is I might make jokes about myself or my own process. So, if something funny happened to me while collecting data, I'd share a short joke/funny story about that. I hope that helps. It's little hard to explain as I often do it in the moment. Please feel free to ask again if I was off target. 

Sep 18, 3:47PM EDT0

How did you get this idea, I mean you studied psychology and now you are doing slides?

Sep 18, 8:04AM EDT0

Hi Travis! 

Well, I still do research and evaluation -- I'm a research associate at a nonprofit center. 

So my effective communication skills & training has been more of a parallel development. I started learning powerpoint techniques to overcome my fear of public speaking (see answer to another question).

Then, when I was in undergrad, I loved graphic design and almost pursued that for my major. But I was already behind a year due to transferring, and would have gotten behind even more for switching my major, so I didn't. 

As I continued on with psychology (with a focus on research/evaluation, not clinical work), I became REALLY BORED and frustrated with how most other academics were presenting. The only design was default templates (which often violate graphic/info design principles).

When it was my turn to create slides, I started experimenting with new ways to make them fun and engaging. Students, peers, and mentors raved about it and really liked it, so I just kept on that path. 

I'm now a research associate, and most of my work is spent on conducting evaluations, but that still involves a lot of presentations. But I've continued to help others in this field learn how to improve their presentations, which I should add goes a little beyond slide design ;)

Last edited @ Sep 19, 12:43PM EDT.
Sep 18, 3:44PM EDT0
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Do you think that university professors are mostly very poor presenters?

Sep 18, 7:24AM EDT0

Haha, great queston Ricardo. I do think the status quo makes university instructors (beyond professors) present in poor, ineffective ways. But I don't think it's their fault! We don't get trained on what to do, so we just do what everyone else does....which is ineffective! And It's not just instructors -- most people in general don't know what to do to create effective presentations. And I think university instructors have an extra burden in that their students might not want to be there, and their grade is tied up with performance, and the issue of whether or not to share slides, etc comes up a lot. So there are some unique challenges, but there are ways around them and I truly believe that there is hope for making better presentations happen in university classrooms! 

Sep 18, 3:40PM EDT1

Do people associate visuals faster than they would if someone holds a talk on a subject?

Sep 18, 3:56AM EDT0

Hi Victoria, oh good question. I think you're asking if a visual slide presentation is more effective compared to just a verbal presentation? If so, then I might have to share the annoying response of "it depends." 

It depends on a lot of things, including the content, length of presentation, and motivation of the audience. 

I think it's possible to create a short verbal presentation (no visual complements) that is highly engaging and effective. For example, many of us have watched a comedy special and been able to pay attention the whole time. That's because we want to watch it, it's making us laugh, and they've put a lot of effort into timing and pacing. 

But for a standard lecture or conference presentation, then visual aids (slides, etc) will be more effective at helping students/the audience (a) understand the material (i.e., move the info through the "working memory" stage), (b) remember the material (long term storage), and (c) make it more likely they'll be able to recall it later. 

Last edited @ Sep 18, 4:07PM EDT.
Sep 18, 3:59PM EDT0
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Are you on facebook or twitter so I can follow you?

Sep 18, 3:28AM EDT0

Hi Laura! 

Yup, I sure am!

I have a website with free courses and an email list: echorivera.com

Here is where you can find me on social media: 

Twitter, @echoechoR

Facebook Page

Facebook Group, the Creative Research Communicators Network

Pinterest boards

Sep 18, 3:35PM EDT0

Is there really such an art to design a slide?

Sep 17, 11:41PM EDT0

Haha, yea it might sound odd at first, I totally get that! 

To me, art tends to mean subjective beauty. I could be wrong about that, though. But I say that because effective presentations are not mostly an art. There is a little bit of subjectivity and art involved, but honestly: creating effective presentations involves the use of evidence-based strategies that are founded in research on cognitive psychology and best practices for pedagogy, among other fields (like information design). 

And even though we consider it a given that we should get trained in just about everything else related to our work (e.g., statistics, research methods), for some reason many believe that we can somehow know what effective communication strategies are. 

Falling victim to that myth is why our field as a whole is full of ineffective presenters who don't even realize they're so ineffective. 

Here is an excellent study to help further explain what I mean, and to show how widespread ineffective presenting really is

Last edited @ Sep 19, 12:38PM EDT.
Sep 18, 4:04PM EDT0

How many students do you have at the moment?

Sep 17, 10:44PM EDT0

Hi Kayla, 

I have 18 students in an open online course that I recently created, Blast Off to Stellar Slides. My presentations for the course are through 70 recorded lessons (less than 20 minutes each). And I'm happy to talk more about how I made pre-recorded presentations if anyone is interested. 

I am also a research associate at a nonprofit evaluation center. My presentations through this work are for clients, government staff/policymakers, and community agencies. 

Last edited @ Sep 18, 4:12PM EDT.
Sep 18, 3:19PM EDT1

Do you have a goal of how many students you would like to have taking your course?

Sep 21, 12:19AM EDT0
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