Thursday, November 05, 2009

So ...

... I'm back from Pittsburgh, and while I have several rants about my experiences there (from more GPS issues, to poster sessions, to business meetings, etc etc) ... I want to clarify my exasperation about Comic Sans font.

On Monday, I judged several 15 minute oral presentations from graduate students. We had a list of criteria they wanted us to judge on, and one of them was presentation. I will readily admit, I took off a point for poor font choice (too small, wrong color, wrong style). I know I've talked about this before, but I'll say it again:

1. If you choose an 8 point font for your slides, it's going to be too small.
2. If you have a white background, and you use lemon yellow font, it's going to be invisible.
3. If you use a serif font for your text, you're going to cause your audience to tune you out to read it.
4. If you write entire paragraphs, you're going to cause your audience to tune you out to read it.
5. Bullet points are for points, not paragraphs.

Ok, for #3. Studies have shown that serif fonts draw a readers eye. If you WANT someone to read something, make it a serif font. For slide titles, that's great ... you want them to know what you're talking about, so a visual cue at the top will immediately clue them in. Of course, make the one or two words at the top RELEVANT. However, the bulk of the text on the slide is FOR YOU, NOT THEM. They should be listening to you, not reading your slides. The text on the slide is mostly to jog your memory so you can then engage the audience. So if you make your text a serif font, and serif font catches people's eyes ... by using it, you're going to lose your audience. So, don't use it.

More than one of the students did use serif fonts in the text of their slide (and oddly enough used sans serif fonts for their slide titles) so they lost a point (1 out of 100 isn't going to kill anyone so don't accuse me of being draconian -- plus I explained it to them!). Plus, I told them to stick to professional fonts (Times New Roman, Arial, Courier, etc). So it royally chapped my behind when I got into the talks of people who SHOULD KNOW BETTER ... there were a ton of talks with bulleted paragraphs, horribly mismatched slide background and font colors, and COMIC SANS FONT! Great way to set an example to the societies future!

You know what, if I ever find myself in charge of an ASA division (or the society itself), I'm going to suggest standards for oral presentations.

PS: The student talks were all great, and on my score cards all scored quite high. Kudos to them!


soil mama said...

I think it's fine to take off points for font that is inappropriate (in type, size or color). I also find that PI's tend to put less time and energy into their talks than the grad students.

Although some people hate the idea of it, I like having institutional slide backgrounds and themes. when presenting at meeting I use the one from my university. it is pretty tasteful (no growling mascot) and takes the "pressure" off when it comes time to pick a font or color scheme since the university's design people have put all the work into it already. It is also a nice way to identify people from the same institution.

I do have to say though, that going through old talks from meetings or seminars I didn't attend, it is nice to have enough text to know what's going on without the speakers narration.

do we get to hear any of your other rants? I'm curious to hear what you thought about the poster session.

Tom said...

At least for ASA, they have made the move to the default that all talks WILL be recorded unless the speaker says no (it is currently the opposite). So in the future, most ASA talks will come with narration.

And yes, I will be ranting a bit more as time allows.