PowerPoint and Presenting Stuff

Medicine Presentations: Conversation with Echo Swinford

Echo Swinford (pictured to the right) is a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional). When she’s not working on new media, she is answering almost all the questions on the PowerPoint newsgroup. Echo is also the co-author of Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 Complete Makeover Kit, published by Que. She also creates tons of presentations for the medical industry — you can contact her for your presentation requirements through her site: Echo’s Voice.

Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself, and the PowerPoint work you do in the medical industry.

Well, I started working for a medical education communications company in 1997. The owner was considering outsourcing her slide work, but she was worried about quality control. I knew my quality control was good in general, so I proposed that she let me create her slides. I didn’t tell her that I didn’t really know PowerPoint, so when she agreed, I had to learn it – and learn it fast!

I think my background in journalism and desktop publishing has really helped me with slide development, especially if you think of it as page layout on a large scale. I know that my proofreading skills are a definite plus, and the fact that I’m a bit of a math and puzzle geek sure hasn’t hurt!

Here I am, 11 years later, still developing presentations for a variety of industries. In the healthcare and medical education industry specifically, I do a lot of slide cleanup work, making presentations consistent and visible for conferences and meetings as well as developing collateral materials like scientific posters and syllabi. I also do a lot of promotional decks, speaker-led presentations, CME materials, and stand-alone enduring education modules that are distributed in a variety of ways. In addition, I can often be found with the production crew backstage at meetings, running speaker review or minding the presentation equipment. I love being self-employed, so I have the opportunity to do all of those things and more (like write PowerPoint books!).

Geetesh: What sets the presentations created for medicine to be different than conventional PowerPoints?

Echo: Honestly, I don’t know that there is such a thing as a “conventional” PowerPoint! PowerPoint is used in so many ways….

One thing common to many medical presentations, though, is the sheer amount of data-driven slides. That means lots of charts, lots of tables, and lots of really text-heavy slides. I find that the extreme mix of chart slides is always a challenge in medical presentations – more so than with what I see in other industries. For example, it’s not unusual for a medical presenter to want four or six very small charts on a slide, with the goal of comparing various studies or compounds at different stages. Therefore, understanding what point the speaker wants to make becomes imperative to the design of the slide. If you can eliminate or at least downplay the extraneous information, you can emphasize what’s important – what the audience should remember.

So, maybe after this four-chart slide, there’s a column chart. Then a line chart, then a pie chart, then a column chart with a trend line. Some have error bars, some don’t. Some slides have two or three or four charts, others have just one. The challenge is making all of these different charts look like a cohesive set, especially when the data varies so greatly. It’s also important to understand what types of charts show what types of data the best so you can advise your clients appropriately.

When you toss in text-heavy slides, it’s important for the presentation developer to understand what’s important and what can be moved into speaker notes or downplayed on the slide. Some text slides work better as tables, especially if the text has lots of numbers and specific data.

And then, of course, there’s always the struggle with where to place references, P-values, and acronym definitions, and it’s not unusual to have a lot of all of those on an individual slide! That extreme amount of “fine print” just isn’t as much of an issue in the presentations I work on for other industries. And finding some of the symbols used in medical presentations can be an adventure, too.

Categories: interviews, medicine, powerpoint

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