METM10 presentation     Thread: Promising practices

Working with visual grammar and graded transparency to create navigable slides for audiovisual presentations

Simon Bartlett -” Madrid, Spain

Background: The research talk is a core communication genre in the sciences, providing important opportunities for researchers to raise their profile and establish networks. As in other fields, the spoken commentary is generally supported by PowerPoint visuals. Presenters of research talks often have limited genre awareness of audiovisual communication, and tend to model their presentations on more dominant written genres. This can result in information-dense PowerPoint slides that are difficult for audience members to navigate. The presenter therefore has to divert energy from expounding the content of slides to explaining their structure. The heavy burden this places on speaking skills is especially problematic for presenters delivering a talk in a second language.

Purpose & solutions: This talk examines ways of designing PowerPoint slides that have a clear visual structure, thereby minimizing the amount of verbal explanation required. The approach is based on anticipation of audiences' likely processing needs, and consists of placing elements in relation to one another in a sequence analogous to the given-to-new information flow of written texts. The talk will also introduce the use of graded-transparency framing instead of PowerPoint's usual -œanimation- features. This is a simple procedure in which light tracks the focus of interest in complex graphics. These approaches will be of interest to all users of PowerPoint and especially to those who provide training and revision services in the area of audiovisual communication.


Simon Bartlett initially trained as a biochemist (Manchester University, 1990), and went on to study for a PhD in Developmental Biology (King's College London, 1996). After spells as a post-doctoral researcher in London and Madrid, he switched to working as an author's editor in the biomedical area. For the last eight years he has been based at the CNIC (the Spanish National Centre for Cardiovascular Research) where in addition to revising texts he runs workshops on academic writing and presentation.