Diversity includes different levels of sensory skills like seeing and hearing. This blog post describes three factors you can easily tweak to make your scientific presentation accessible to a broader group of people.
Do you remember a time in a conference talk when suddenly people reacted to something the presenter said, but you missed it? Maybe you took notes or checked your emails – one way or the other, you didn’t get the info. Now imagine that some people feel like that constantly.
Audiences are more diverse than we think
Scientific audiences are diverse. Diverse concerning race, ethnicity, gender, culture,… but also regardinging different levels of sensory abilities, considering that:
- More than 4% of the global population have low vision
- Approximately 1 in 20 people has some form of hearing deficiency
- About 9–12% of people worldwide have dyslexia, a condition characterised by severe difficulties reading, spelling and writing
Be aware of diverse abilities
The average conference presentation seems to assume that audience members can see, hear and read well. High text load and small graph labels on the slides are as frequent as a fast-talking speaker. However, the above statistics suggest that this assumption is rarely correct and may cause accessibility issues for a notable percentage of attendees.
Increasing inclusivity means increasing the impact of your talk
Limited inclusivity is not only a problem for the affected audience members but also the presenter because it limits the talk’s impact. Every presentation has a purpose, such as to inform, inspire, persuade or entertain the audience. Regardless of which communication goal applies to your talk, you can only achieve it if people understand what you’re telling and showing them.
Imagine a potential new collaborator sits in the audience but just can’t read your slides. Or you’re presenting to a funding committee and one of the evaluators has low hearing, thus cannot understand what you’re saying. In both scenarios, a few changes to your slides can overcome the communication barrier.
Three steps toward more inclusive slides
There are plenty of things you can do to make your slides more inclusive. Some are easy fixes; others require more work. Here, I list three factors you can tweak within minutes to make your presentation accessible to a broader group of people:
Text-heavy slides are a rugged watch for everybody. However, they pose an even bigger challenge for those who have difficulties reading. The list of great scientists with dyslexia is long and includes names such as Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein and Carol Greider. People with this condition read slowly, and many describe that multiple lines of text ‘swim’ into each other. To make your presentation more accessible for this group:
– Reduce the overall amount of text,
– Keep any text to single lines with lots of white space in between them, and
– Pause when you bring up a new slide so people can read everything before you speak.
If you worry that trimming down text could take a while, you may find this simple trick helpful: Just keep the keywords of each bullet point and copy-paste the rest of the text into the presentation notes. You can then say the information instead of letting people read it.
- Font and script
Think back to the last conference you attended. How many people with glasses did you see? How many attendees were older than 50? Visual impairment is a common condition worldwide, and it gets more frequent with age. Tweaking the text appearance can help massively improve the accessibility of your slides for your audience members with low vision:
– Choose clear fonts such as sans serif types (e.g., Arial, Verdana and Helvetica)
– Keep the letter size to 20 pt or larger
– Use bold script for emphasis instead of italics or underlining because the latter two change the shape of the letter, thus making them harder to read.
– Write in mixed case instead of all caps
Optimising your text in this way will also ensure that the people at the back of the room have an easier time reading your slides.
If you present to an audience of 200, statistically, 10 attendees will struggle to hear what you say. Luckily, this communication barrier is easy to overcome because most current presentation programs allow you to add subtitles in real-time. This typically works through your laptop’s microphone and automatically generates captions at the bottom of the screen as you speak.
The web is full of easy-to-follow instructions for enabling subtitles in various types of presentation software. So, I’ll only list the two most commonly used ones here:
– In PowerPoint, you can access the feature in the Slide Show ribbon tap through the Subtitle settings (comprehensive instruction are available on the Microsoft support website).
– In Google Slides, you can enable subtitles by clicking the CC icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen when you are in presenter modus.
As a bonus, subtitles will also make your presentation more accessible to those whose first language is not English.
I hope you’ve found these pointers helpful. Let me know how you’re getting on, and: Happy writing!