Relocating text

This post is designed to deal with one of the biggest concerns colleagues express about a visual method that appears to sideline, or balance, text delivery. Many people assume that a visual method means that text is removed, but this isn’t the case. PowerPoint is an excellent, well-understood and easy to use platform capable of multimedia delivery and storage and this is the case with the method of visual delivery derived from MML theory.

MML by Richard MayerWe are accustomed to using this platform to deliver text primarily, with images as occasional appendages rather than pedagogic media channels in their own right. Some go as far as to say that digital delivery platforms of today are primarily used in the same way that chalkboards and OHPs were in the past, as document delivery systems. Tom Schrand calls the use of such platforms ‘shovelware’. I have referred to this in a little more detail here.  But if MML is not about eliminating text, the most obvious question is, ‘what happens to it?’ There are 2 answers to this.

In the first instance, we can keep a limited amount of text on our slides, over the image. This might be a title, or a prompt, or whatever you wish. But it shouldn’t be presented in a way that conceals the image, or there’d be no point in having the image. I try to stick to a simple rule – no more than 1 line at 28 point font, and I highlight the text with a semi-opaque black fill (covered elsewhere in this blog post series).  But this doesn’t really cover what many academics are most concerned with. If we are encouraged to ‘feed’ students course information as a result of neoliberal universities participating in ever more comprehensive and Darwinian ranking metrics, we can put as much as we ever put on the slides, in the ‘Notes View’ section of PPT.

Here, I have included a lengthy quote connected with the image I chose for the slide. In addition, I have copied in lorem text to show how much more space there is for your preferred. ‘Notes View’ appears when you grab the horizontal bar beneath the slide and lift it. We can give students as much or as little text as we want to, and have imagery do some of the pedagogic work for us. We don’t need to create extra documents; as long as we make the PPT file available, our students can have a genuine multimedia learning experience. Since both VLE’s and lecture capture are increasingly adopted in UK and US HE, we have the right platforms to host those files.

Font choices

Blog 6 Fonts and dyslexia fonts

I thought I’d write a little bit about font choices, since I’ve also discussed contrast and backgrounds. I hadn’t started to think much about fonts until I came across Guy Kawasaki’s work about presenting slides. Kawasaki is a guru in the presentation world, who once worked with Apple and was involved in the famous launch of the MacBook Air in 2008 with Steve Jobs (whatever we may think of Apple’s employment rights positions).  I’ve recreated it below, because it’s also an example of what this CoP is about. Jobs communicated the key concept of the MacBook Air (its weight and size) not be putting up stats about its weight and depth but by comparing it with an envelope. I think it’s a useful example of the application of images in the communication of knowledge.

Made to emulate the event in 2008. Copyright David Roberts; Steve Jobs CC2.0

Anyway, Kawasaki came up with the 10-20-30 rule and I’ve adapted it for my own use. Most of it doesn’t apply to academic work but it does seem appropriate for the punchier world of business competition. It suggests that presentations should not have more than 10 slides, last 20 minutes and use a 30-point font. Given the size of PowerPoint slides, the 30-point font makes sense, although it’s easier to select 28 point from the drop-down menu in Word, and that’s what I have been doing. This size seems clear and visible enough even for non-20-20 vision students seated at the rear of large lecture theatres. So it seems reasonable to suggest 28 point fonts for our own work.


That takes us to what kind of font to use and how many we might apply in a single presentation. There is a design rule that appears in this very handy book by Robin Williams (not that one)

and is echoed across respected sources elsewhere that a presentation shouldn’t have more than 2 different fonts. There should be continuity across the slides, in other words. Then we can choose a font from 2 families, serif and sans serif. Sans serif has been characterized as ‘clean and smooth’ whilst serif has curly bits on it, like in Times font. I always use Segoe UI light, which I believe comes as standard in MS Office. In my view, sans serif fronts are better, and this is the case, it seems, for students with dyslexia. Which brings me to a handy font we can use that is claimed to be better for students experiencing dyslexia and presents no problems for students not experiencing dyslexia. It’s free to download here for anyone interested. Fonts are quick and easy to install, but you need to unpack them from the folder they arrive in first. Then select them all (sometimes font variations like upper case, italic and bold) come as separate files. Right click and ‘install’, and off you go.

There’s some overlap now in this post with things I’ve discussed regarding slide colour and background. I always use the same black background and use Segoe UI light in white to maximize contrast. I understood this to be best also for dyslexic students, but at the HEA event I convened, I learned that a blue text on a cream background is best. This being academia, unsurprisingly, opinion is divided, so it’ll be up to you to decide which is best for your needs.

Animation v. Transition

I imagine we’ve all seen PPT presentations and lectures where things fly around the place, dramatic changes happen between slides with shattering glass or rolling cubes and so on appear to spice up or add performance to the slides. These usually involve 2 elements of PPT and I’m going to look at each in turn. They are transitions and animations. The difference between the two might be characterized as being between slide and within them. But both appear to provide novelty, a degree of dramatic license and perhaps notably, given the persistent demand for ‘innovation’, choice about how we present and how we differentiate our work from others. I’ll start with transitions.


Transitions, like animations, have their own tab on the top of the PPT file. They act between slides. That is, they create a discernible gap or break in slide content form one to the next. They’re popular for a variety of reasons. There is an element of ‘pzazz’ involved and they appear to offer some form of break between slide content.  Transitions can be added to any one, or all slides, and you can add the same transition to all the slides in one click; or you can give each slide its unique transition. My concern with them is that, in dividing up the slides, they serve to interrupt the flow and add time in which nothing, other than a showy moment, is happening. In that sense, for me, they have always been a distraction, breaking up the flow of the slides and losing time between slides whilst also stopping flow briefly.


Melting clock, lost time. Copyright

I toyed with them when PPT first came out, but dropped them rapidly when the novelty gave way to a realization that for me, and for the presentation, they served no real purpose I could see. It was a case of form over function. Nowadays, I tend to discourage their use if asked.


Animations take place within a slide. As far as the use of images goes, there isn’t much to animate (unless the images are animations of course which is a different ball game). Animations here refers to the motion of text on a given slide. It’s not uncommon to see, for example, text appear as if it were coming out of a typewriter, one letter at a time. Some people even add the clatter of the keys. My own rule is to keep it simple. Like transitions, animations has a tab on the top menu bar of PPT. There is a wide range of types of animation and, for the imaginative and those with time on their hands, you can create your own, moving text (or anything else you can add to a slide) anywhere, with any vector (or movement in a given, or multiple, directions).


Animations for me involve motion of text on a given slide. There is a good evolutionary reason to consider using animations, given how much digital distraction an audience brings with it that we need to compete with (I’m thinking about people reading Facebook posts, sharing images on Instagram, replying to emails and texts and so on). Sudden motion at our periphery forces us to look towards what’s moving. My understanding is that this is about predation. Some take the view that it applies to us as subjects of predation – having to keep a wary eye out for an attacker. Others suggest that we as predators use the eye’s attraction to motion to locate victims.

Eye detecting movement. Copyright

Either way, text animation can draw an audience’s attention towards the screen we want them to look at – not always and not all the time, but this motion has a positive rationale whilst transitions seem less valuable.  In my experience, and with a nod to gurus like Guy Kawasaki, it’s wiser to use only discreetly. My own preference is for a ‘wipe’ effect or a ‘fade’, depending on where the text is on the image, how much space it takes up relative to the key object in the image, and what I had for breakfast. I’ll provide some guidance for anyone who might be interested. I imagine most people know how to do this but for anyone that doesn’t, this may help.

Menu bar – ANIMATIONS – CHOOSE FROM STARRED OPTIONS IN MENU ABOVE SLIDE – THAT’S IT. Speed and duration is automated, but I have found it really helpful to click the ‘after previous’ option next to the green arrow at the top right. This advances the animation as soon as your new slide appears on-screen, meaning you’re not having to click again to get the text to appear. The image below shows where that little arrow lives.

And for a really professional slide, we can add a semi-opaque fill, so the text isn’t rendered invisible by various different colours in the image it accompanies. I’ve put below an example of what a difference it can make to the visibility of text and the professional appearance of the slide.

Text without semi-opaque fill. Source


With opaque text fill

Creating a semi-opaque fill:

Right click on your text’s boundary box (not the text itself). FORMAT SHAPE – FILL – SOLID FILL – TRANSPARENCY (to taste, depending on image)

I’ll provide a free blank slide with built-in animation etc to anyone who asks.You’ll be able to modify it to your own taste if you want.


This perhaps sounds like a lot of effort, and it’s a fair concern. I’m going to devote a post to this issue, but if I were asked to justify it, I’d say we spend a great deal of time getting words onto a slide, and images have their own value as a parallel medium for communicating meaning. You don’t have to put images onto every slide – or even any slide if you’re not happy with it. A few at a time can make a big difference. From MML theory perspective, it’s no less legitimate or important a task than putting words up on the screen.