The Prettiest Powerpoint

Crimes against Powerpoint


I went to a research seminar recently where the speaker put up on screen quite the worst Powerpoint you ever did see. Seriously, it was like the speaker had read a list of all the Powerpoint errors you can make and combined them into a messy Microsoft minestrone.

Gazillions of bullet points per page: yep

Huge tables with lots of teeny tiny writing you couldn’t read from the front of the room, let alone the back: check

Pages and pages of detail about different studies: cos why tailor your Powerpoint to your audience when you can use just one, right?

You get the picture (none of those in there, either!)

Despite this, the speaker was engaging and interesting to listen to because they had real enthusiasm for their subject, described the studies clearly and had great rapport with the audience. But the Powerpoint was dire. It was nearly as bad as the slide shown above. Take a look and try to guess who presented this slide*

This was a big contrast with another Powerpoint I encountered recently at our departmental PhD conference. Some of the talks were excellent and a real inspiration to us newbie PhD candidates. The prettiest Powerpoint was by Emma White, who is working on  the topic of perceived naturalness and restoration in gardens. It was so pretty that I thought it would be interesting to see what makes it such a lovely aesthetic experience.

There are plenty of blogs and websites out there giving general tips on how to present research. For example, The Thesis Whisperer has some useful posts on presenting, such as ‘Four ways to rock your next talk’ or the comprehensive advice on When The Scientist Presents I’m not going to rehash any of those tips: this is more of a case study of a beautifully designed presentation and what makes it work so well.

It undoubtedly helps that Emma is a fantastic photographer, and also that her topic lends itself easily to beautiful photos of gardens and natural environments like this:

One of Emma’s beautiful photos (copyright Emma White, thanks for her kind permission)

or this:

copyright Emma White
copyright Emma White


Emma’s design eye was also obvious, however, in the rest of the Powerpoint, not just in the gorgeous photos. She selected a lovely background colour which she used for most of the slides, giving a unusual and cohesive look across the whole Powerpoint. It was easy to read the white text against this colour, and is gentler on the eye than stark white on black. What’s more, as you can see below, she uses a band of a slightly darker colour to add visual interest to her titles and to emphasise them even when there is competing stuff on the page (like kittens). She also uses a slightly lighter shade in her diagrams, like the one below on the right.

isn't this a pretty colour?
isn’t this a pretty colour?
simple but effective
simple but effective


well you can't beat a kitten photo, can you?
well you can’t beat a kitten photo, can you?


Without reproducing the whole Powerpoint, you can’t grasp the overall flow of the presentation, so you’ll just have to take my word that it has a lovely feel. Emma mixes up striking photos with slightly more wordy (but still clear and sparse) explanations or graphs or diagrams. There is a good balance across the presentation, with punchy sequences of photos interspersed with more text-based slides, ensuring that the audience is kept guessing. There is also a simple narrative across the presentation, with discreet signposting keeping you orientated with no irritating clunkiness. The overall impression is light, full of interesting detail and refreshing, just like a walk in a beautiful garden. Thanks for sharing, Emma!

*Er, it’s Bill Gates

PS You can find Emma here:


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