When I was part of the BSA training team one of my pet peeves was the preponderance of bad PowerPoint decks. In fact, those bad decks were the basis of the initial conversation which led to the formation of Scouting U. It is still an issue I observe in and out of Scouting today.

The content below is from a handout, Doug Krofina and I originally created with some of our volunteer training design Scouters for a NAM presentation, with tips and thoughts on the topic. I hope it will help you create decks which enhance learning and retention.

Presentation Graphics Software

A computer with presentation graphics software (such as PowerPoint) combines the advantage of the overhead projector, the slide projector, flipchart, felt board, and whiteboard/chalkboard, all rolled into one.

With computer projection systems, a presentation can be made to audiences as small as five (using only a monitor) or as large as a full auditorium.
Projection is best viewed in a minimally-darkened room. A darkened room is not necessary, nor desired. The presenter should be the focus of the presentation, not the slides.

The trainer should always be able to face the audience. By keeping eye contact with participants, the trainer is able to maintain control of the group while at the same time controlling the presentation.

Photos and Clip Art

Photos dress up your presentation considerably and are available from a number of sources, including many Internet sites. (Observe copyright ownership. Be sure the photo or site includes a statement granting permission to use the material. The BSA has stock Scouting photos you can use.)

Photos which are related to the topic can enhance retention of the material. Distracting or unrelated photos do the opposite to an even greater degree.
Avoid using “cliche” clip art. Make sure it has a real point and is not just decoration.

Fonts and Type Point Size

Font sizes should be used which can be read by everyone in the room. Some examples:
Titles 50 point Main thoughts 32 point
Secondary points 28 point
Third level points 24 point
Fourth level and smallest recommended 20 point

There are two basic groups of type, the serif and the sans-serif. Each has a best use in the presentation of material.

Serif typefaces are commonly found in books. They are easy to read and information may somewhat more readily remembered when presented in serif typefaces. The strokes in each letter are “capped” with serifs which help the eye recognize the letters more easily.

Sans-serif is the best choice for slides because it produces a more readable character when projected. The strokes in each letter are not capped, and the look is smoother.

Do not mix fonts and do not underline! These will distract the eye and confuse the brain. You do not want the learner to have to think too much about what is seen. Bold or italicize a word for emphasis.

Color on Color

Color can enhance your presentation, but used poorly can make it unreadable. Keep it simple and use colors with a sharp contrast. Keep in mind about 10% of men and 1% of women have some form of color vision deficiency. Sometimes black and white is best!(Ranked from most visible to least visible)

• Black on white
• Black on yellow
• Green on white
• Blue on white
• White on blue
• Yellow on black
• White on red
• White on orange
• White on black
• Red on yellow
• Green on red
• Red on green

4 by 6 Rule

As a general rule a slide should contain – including the title – no more than four lines of text and no more than 6 words per line. If you have a longer set of bullet points, break them into multiple slides.


Charts and graphs are very hard to read in a slide deck. It is best to have a summary slide with the key, or example, points and if essential present the full chart in a handout.


Speaking of handouts, unless absolutely essential do not distribute handouts before your presentation unless you want them to read them instead of paying attention to you. Hand them out after your presentation.


Do you really need your logo on every slide? Consider using borders, logos, and backgrounds only on the title slide and the final slide. They should be well aware of who you are and who you represent after the first slide. You can remind them on the final slide.

More Tips

Tip: If you are using a computer and projector for a presentation, be sure to set it up properly and well in advance to avoid interruptions and embarrassment. Be sure the computer works with the projector; check the sound; turn off your screen saver and/or hibernation; turn off automatic updates (in fact, disconnect from wireless unless necessary for the presentation); turn off instant messenger and e-mail programs; etc. Some operating systems have a presentation mode which will do a lot of this for you – use it! And of course – practice!!

Tip: Teach to the Back Row – Be sure, again in advance, the folks in the back of the room can see and hear your content. The letters and charts on slides need to be large enough for everyone to read them. If not possible and you cannot share the information verbally, use a handout or another media.

Tip: Tool or Script? – Too many of us create presentation media which is more like a script than a teaching tool. Slides or charts should be limited to key points to help you and your audience remember something, not be the entire content of the presentation.

Tip: Spelling – This is pretty basic, but far too many presentations lose their impact due to poor spelling and improper capitalization. Check your prepared presentations at least twice, and then ask someone else to look at it.

Tip: KISMIF – This famous Cub Scout tip is a good one for training in Scouting. Keep It Simple, Make It Fun!

Note: Nearly all of these concepts are the same for self-study presentations. However, either notes or more detail on slides may be necessary to overcome the lack of an instructor.

Want other opinions? Try these:

The Six Principles of Cognitive Overload Theory

The Principle of Multimedia

People learn better from words and pictures than words alone.
● Use a combination of single words or phrases and pictures, rather than just words.
● Pictures are visual reference points to help the audience understand what is being communicated.
Training Technique
● Reduce the number of words on a slide.
● Don’t use full sentences, just phrases or single words in support of what is being spoken aloud.
● Only use images if they support the text and promote recall.

The Principle of Coherence

People learn better when extraneous material is removed rather than included.
● Our brains can only pay attention to a limited amount of information.
● Mantra: Simple is better!
Training Technique
● Only use what is needed to communicate the idea.
● Anything extra is acting against your effectiveness.
● Consider the words of one famous designer (Antoine de Saint-Exupery):
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
● Use logos on the beginning slide and then only occasionally throughout a slide show and only when they add to the presentation and slides’ explanation.

The Principle of Contiguity

People learn better when words and pictures are presented at the same time or next to each other on the screen.
● Make sure all pictures relate to the text.
● Be sure pictures and text are shown at the same time so the participant doesn’t get caught on the first-displayed, or last-displayed.
● Displaying them at the same time says one equals the other.
Training Technique
● When using a photo or clip art to highlight text, consider arrows or annotations which point directly to the correlation.
● This will help increase the audience focus on the point.

The Principle of Modality
People learn much better from animation with spoken text than printed text.
● Often presenters are tricked into thinking animation helps the audience stay engaged and awake.
● Animations are generally considered annoying.
● When animations are used with text they become confusing and difficult to concentrate on the point.
Training Technique
● Use the spoken word rather than text on a slide when using animation.

The Principle of Signaling
People learn better when the material is organized with clear outlines and headings.
● A common offender is the effort to cram as much material as possible onto the slide.
● This assumes the audience has a superb memory, even photographic, and can absorb all the words and diagrams WHILE the presenter is reading the text at the same time.
Training Technique
● Consider the number of elements on the slide.
● Where will the eyes go first?
● Be sure to layer a slide using the direction the audience logically reads – in American English, that’s left to right.
● Be sure all elements flow logically.
● An audience will get stuck on a slide which does not flow logically and still be trying to comprehend why the B came before the A.
● The point of the slide is lost in the confusion.
● Carefully consider the general reading ability of the audience.
● Don’t over complicate a slide with big words or complex graphs and charts.

The Principle of Personalization
People learn better from conversational style rather than formal style.
● Research shows people learn better when the person delivers their presentation in conversational tones rather than using the formal method.
Training Technique
● Learn the material well enough so there is no need to read from a slide or slide notes.
● Practice, practice, practice.

Below is a link to a deck which is part of the Fundamentals of Training train-the-trainer course. It is called “PowerPoint:  Good, Bad, & Ugly”: https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/training/ppt/PPTdeckT3.ppt