How to do decent slides – and how to avoid the 'O look I can do bouncing text!' syndrome

[slideshare id=251610&doc=elson-junior-assembly-04022008-lent-and-ash-weds-1202114590524706-3&w=425

This is a new departure for me: publishing my assemblies complete with slideshows. More on my actual assembly later.

I was looking yesterday at some powerpoints done in schools at and was appalled at many of them: terrible colours, WORDART – the curse of presentations, horrible entrance effects and silly fonts. Much more interested in style than substance. Why are teachers so bad at presentation skills? I remember a lecture given by a Uni Lecturer which consisted of an A4 OHP acetate hand scrawled and part revealed under an envelope. It was like someone sharing you an idea written on the back of a fag packet. [If that lecturer is reading this – I forgot your paper immediately, but I remembered your cringeworthy technique all these past 15 years

I don’t claim to be a presentational guru, but I have a house style and some simple rules which were passed onto me and bear sharing:

  • Consistancy – use one font, and choose a clear one. Avoid Comic Sans in every way. If you need a handwriting-like font (for primary age children, use a proper one like Sassoon Primary). My house style is Trebuchet MS


  • Colours should be consistant. I prefer white on black, but in a daylit Church black on white appears best. Use only one other colour for highlights. On black slides, I use Orange and white slides, I use Red. Notice on the slideshow above how I use the orange to highlight key words or animately highlight the Scriptural Quote.
  • Transformations should be simple and not get in the way. Use only one (such as disolve in or fade) and avoid the shocking Entrance effects, such as bounce or scroll text in. It wastes time and processing power and looks silly or distracting. NEVER use more than one. It just looks like you’ve recently discovered the effects box and are simply playing. Exception: when you want to animate in an arrow, the judicious use of sideways-wipe will make the arrow appear and draw the focus of attention towards the arrow point. Unfortunately, this embedded slideshow does not build content within a slide. I usually build bullet points by using the same transform method (usually dissolve-in) so that people do not read ahead.
  • Simplicity: Do not put a huge swathe of text on screen and simply read it. A small number of simple points per slide. Ideally, your slides should say something supporting what you are saying: a reference, a picture illustrating or emphasising your point, a word or theme you want to convey. Your script and the slides should work separately. I write my script first and simply mark where I press the presentation clicker next-slide button to get stuff up on screen. It means that your teaching or sermon is the primary medium and the powerpoint supports it.
  • Video can help, but edit it aggressively. You can get a lot of media from YouTube and GoogleVideo these days, and then use a tool to download them, editing them sometimes for clarity. I save things in mpg-1 format which is universally supported out of the box on all machines in a way that a better codec such as DivX is not: the last thing you need is to arrive with a stick and discover your presentation has blank videos: sound and no image. Silent video behind what you are saying canbe very powerful.
  • Animations: Whilst video can help, and clips are hugely useful to break up a presentation, move to a new theme or set up an argument, AVOID ANIMATED SLIDES: they are the work of the Devil, for all they do is distract the eye. My one exception is my little animated sign of the cross (again, sadly not shown on this slide presention here) which indicates to the kids when they should make the sign of the cross. I do, however, as you see use it very sparingly. I have seen powerpoints from experienced teachers which litter the page with a dozen ‘cute’ animating, waving icons, all of which shout “look at me, I’m more important than what the person is saying‘.
  • Engage with the congregation rather than the laptop. Use a clicker. They can be as cheap as £15 and work wirelessly to move the slides forward and back. At least, pick up the mouse and hold it like a clicker. Look at your text and the congregation. DO NOT keep stopping, turning to your laptop and PRESSING THE SPACEBAR. It makes you look like a numpty.

My Assembly

Standard intoduction – always begin with “In the name of…” and the greeting. This sets the tone that this is a religious assembly and I make no compromises about that. Not comfortable with that? Read the 1944 Education Act and understand what the legal obligation to Collective Worship really means. Bring religion properly back into schools, I say.

Spring Cleaning: Pull out a feather duster and make the kids laugh. Spring means sorting out the cobwebs, dealing with the mess. So is Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday. Explain the significance of Ashing. In a Church School I would actually ash a child or a group of children, but I don’t have that luxury.

Scripture reading from Joel. People think Lent is just about giving stuff up, but what about taking something up: being kind, reaching out to someone.

Song and Prayer: They don’t really get enough opportunity to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and few of them really know it, so I am going to teach them the Caribbean Lord’s Prayer. The only downside is that from this day forward they will say “hallow-ed” in the prayer, but what the heck…

Blessing and Dismissal – stole on (always do an assembly in cassock – it shows you respect them) and give a proper blessing and dismissal. It might be the nicest thing they get done to them by an adult this week.

So that’s my outline and some of my core philosophy for what I consider to be one of my most important liturgical tasks of the week. I know plenty of teachers and priests who give no planning or thought to their assemblies, whereas I work on one for as long as my Sunday sermon. The same thing applies to my Youth Club talks. Someone said you should spend an hour of preparation and prayer for a minute of sermon, and I sense that this should apply to assembly and youth club talks as well.