4 Guaranteed Tips That Will Refresh Your Old Lecture Slides

November 1, 2023

Higher Education

4 Guaranteed Tips That Will Refresh Your Old Lecture Slides Featured Image


Updating your lecture slides can be a tough but necessary task. Here are a few hints for developing effective lecture presentations that will work well for in-person or recorded lectures.
1) Limit the Amount of Text
This is probably the most important, but it is often the most challenging. It is tempting (and easier) to type out everything that you plan to say on each slide. There are a couple of negative aspects of doing this, though. First, presenting students with a slide full of text can yield information overload. It can be difficult for students (who are new to the material) to determine what the key points are, and thus where to focus their attention. Second, presenting a “wall of text” invites students to read through the slide while you are lecturing, rather than listening. Students can read faster than you can speak, so they will often get to the end of the slide before you do, then find something else to occupy their attention, missing important details.
Slides should be used to augment your lecture, not replace it. Keep text on the slides to high-level concepts, then go through the details of those verbally. The students should be taking notes on anything you say that isn’t on the slide (which also reinforces learning).  As a good rule-of-thumb, limit text on each slide to a high-level title, and 5 bullet points with no more than 8 words each. Your audience will be able to digest and retain key points more easily. Don’t use your slides as speaker’s notes or to simply project an outline of your presentation. Use a large, dark colored font so that the text is easily readable.
2) Develop Slides with Exam Review in Mind
When studying for an exam, one of the first steps for students will be reviewing previous lecture slides. Think through the concepts you will be testing on, and make sure that they are mentioned in your lecture slides. Remember, you don’t need to give all the details in the slides themselves (students should be taking their own notes on the specifics of your lecture). While exam preparation should not be an exercise in slide content memorization, having all the covered topics mentioned somewhere in the lecture slides will let students know where to focus their review efforts.
Adding slide numbers to your lecture presentations will help make Q&A easier.  If a student sends you an email about “Lecture #4, slide #9”, you can quickly reference the material they are struggling with, and help them faster, saving you both time and energy.
3) Show Examples
This is especially important for classes that involve formulas or problem-solving processes. Consider providing at least one detailed example per concept. This gives students a guide for solving similar problems on their own. You can choose how much detail you want to include (skipping elementary steps, for example) and walk through the full solution during the lecture, when they can take their own notes. At a minimum, provide an example problem and the correct answer – that way students identify if they are making a mistake and ask an intelligent question about how to approach the problem.
4) Use Graphics and Images
Having something else besides text to look at helps to maintain attention and provide context. This is easy to do if the topic you are covering includes charts or graphs. In most other situations, though, a little creativity may be required. If there is no obvious graphical item to include, consider using a stock photo that is pertinent to the topic. Many school libraries subscribe to stock photo or other image repositories that you can access – check with your library to see if this is available to you. You may also use Google’s image search feature. After searching for a topic, select the “Images” tab under the search bar, then click on the “Tools” button to the right, and under the “Usage Rights” menu, select either “Labeled for Reuse” or “Labeled for Reuse with Modification”. When using graphics and images avoid transitions and sound effects as they can become the focus of attention, which in turn distracts your audience. Such tricks rarely enhance the message you’re trying to communicate. Focus on your message with the graphics and images presented, not the technology.
Developing lecture slides may not be the most exciting aspect of teaching, but a little attention can produce significant benefits to students. The above hints are just guides, and they won’t all be relevant to every course. Don’t feel obligated to implement every piece of advice you get. Pick and choose what works for you and your students. Take a “continuous improvement” approach to your lecture presentations, change a little bit each semester based on feedback, and over time you will have a set of slides that are as close to perfect as possible.