There's a mythology that engineers are poor communicators. However, they can easily become great presenters when they use slideware with thought and intention to support their expertise during their talks. Nathans-Kelly and Nicometo use their collective perspective as engineering communication experts to formulate strategies to avoid information overload and maximize retention. The authors chose to approach this study within engineering environments (higher education and workplaces) in order to see exactly how highly technical information can be delivered to audiences in slide format.
The anecdotes and commonly understood opinions of slide presentations in their field, as engineers, motivated them to find better ways to make slides informative and visually appealing.To back their article, they collaborated with a three-year research study by the National Science Foundations. Both authors participated in the study and found that although many experts they studied are highly knowledgeable professionals, the way they presented their slides needed improvement.
Common mistakes and poor practices in slides format are dense text, overuse of bullet points, lack of graphic and visual aids, and not preserving the information for the audience. The authors devised a three-step approach in order to mitigate these errors.
- Add sentence headers in concise summary style to reinforce what the presenter is communicating
- Create or find effective visual aids that can transfer information to diversify the use of space
- Include a robust and comprehensive notes section for the audience to take after the presentation so they can continue to learn the material asynchronously or refer to it later
Combatting channel overload is basically asking the audience to process audio and text simultaneously. When either audio or text is too dense, people tend to tune out because it overwhelms the brain. Therefore, the three-step approach engages different types of learners and varies the style so audio and visual channels can take turns being absorbed during the presentation.
Although this article is from 2013, its takeaways seem more and more relevant as students, teachers, workers, and executives lament at growing “Zoom fatigue” and general mental exhaustion in their virtual space. Improving slides and online presentations not only make us better technical communicators but also can further stimulate creative ways to visually deliver information.
Stop Slipping and Sliding: Methods to Reclaim Expert Engineering Space by Using Slides to Best Advantage by T. M. Nathans-Kelly and C. G. Nicometo
Don’t be sidelined by your slides, an interview with Dr Traci Nathans-Kelly
Viewpoint Written by Eliana De La Garza, Texas State University
Edited by Mariah Clem, Texas State University