Should we bring binoculars?

Small fonts mar presentations

by Conrad Weisert
March 26, 2015
© 2015 Information Disciplines, Inc.

A disturbing trend

We've been sitting throught more and more presentations in which the lecturer displays presentation slides filled with dense text, often programming-language code, that we can't read from our seats.   It's hard to concentrate on the speaker's content when it depends upon details that we can't make out.

Some of the attendees are not bothered by this, because they brought their own computer with WiFi access, and the speaker began by announcing where to find the material on the web. We look around the room and see that hardly anyone is looking at either the speaker or the main screen. We might all have done as well to log on from home.

Old guidelines

When presentation slides became common, potential presenters received rules from conference program committees. Those rules often included these:

  • Limit each slide to three or four major items (bullet points).

  • Use no font size below 24 point.

  • Never rely on horizontal scrolling during a presentation.

Presenters used to take those guidelines seriously. Their presentations were accompanied by visual aids that the audience could easily see.

Later, as screens became bigger and images became sharper, presenters might successfully descend to 20-point bold fonts, especially when they were showing source code examples. But 12-point type is illegible to a large audience, and fussing with the magnification (zoom) just undermines our concentration.

And this is now

Unless a presentation is specifically billed as a "hands on" workshop, I won't be bringing my own computer to a professional meeting.   I already have far too much to carry around.

I shall, however, continue to urge presenters to make their visual aids visible. I hope most of you will join me.

Program chairs and other organization leaders need to do a better job of screening the presentations of younger, less experienced speakers. It's perfectly reasonable to ask to see their material a few days before the program, and to ask the speaker to make any changes needed to conform to reasonable standards of legibility. Most of them will appreciate the coaching.

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Last modified March 28, 2015