Presentation Design

Last week I was over in Portlaoise in Ireland for the Occupational Hygiene Society of Ireland (OHSI) Conference which this year had the theme “How well do we communicate”. I’d been invited to run a workshop on Presentation Design and also make a presentation on the same subject to the Conference proper.

It’s usually a good idea for conference speakers to provide handouts for the delegates to take away with them. This allows them to cut down on the amount of material covered in your presentation and so reduce the risk of information overload. And delegates have a concrete reminder of what was said, making the presentation more memorable.

It’s become standard practice for presenters to distribute copies of their slides as handouts. However, well designed slides DO NOT make good handouts. If the slides consist of lists of bullet-points (NOT recommended) then they will often be cut-down sentences which will no longer make sense to the reader a week later. And if they are visual slides (recommended) then they’re also unlikely to make sense without additional text.

For speakers who want to provide copies of Powerpoint slides, one of the easiest ways of creating a handout is to type the text of the handout in the “Notes” pane of the PowerPoint edit screen. Then print the slides with the notes as a Word document. This is a relatively easy way of producing an effective handout, and that’s the approach I used for the Conference.


Communicating Science

I spent last week in Ireland. The main purpose of my visit was to attend the annual conference of the Occupational Hygiene Society of Ireland in Portlaoise.   The theme of the Conference was “How well do we communicate” and one of the highlights was the talk by Fergus McAuliffe, an Environmental Scientist from University College Cork.  Fergus won the International  “Fame Lab” competition last year and was a speaker at the TEDX Ireland conference in Dublin.

His talk was about communicating science, with particular reference to presentations. The key points were :

  • Don’t try to cover too much
  • Use appropriate language for the target audience – “word down” (i.e. use simple language)
  • Use a logical structure
  • Use Powerpoint wisely – concentrate on good quality visuals
  • Deliver with passion – people remember what they feel

There was some overlap with my own presentation on “Presentation Design” but I’m glad to say that both of us were “singing from the same hymn sheet” and delivered consistent messages

Making an impact with presentations

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Communication competencies and skills are often considered of lower priority than technical ones and yet they are critical to professional success. BOHS meetings have usually concentrated on technical issues, but to try to give more emphasis to other competencies that are needed by professionals the North West Region recently ran a meeting concentrating on communication skills. The first half concentrated on report writing and the BOHS guidance on report writing that was published last year and was led by one of it’s authors, Adrian Hirst of Manchester University. During the second half of the meeting I ran a session on presentation design.

Occupational hygienists have to make presentations in a number of different situations, which were explored at the beginning of the session. How the presentation is designed and delivered is important if you want to make an impact and a good impression. So it’s worth putting some effort into presentation design. For me the overriding principle is

never prepare and deliver a presentation that you wouldn’t want to sit through yourself!

Careful thought needs to be devoted to a number of key elements, illustrated in the following diagram


The format of the presentation should be adapted to the type of situation and, very importantly, the particular audience. What’s appropriate for a meeting where results are presented to management or Safety Representatives is unlikely to be the same as if you were presenting the same results as a paper at a conference of your peers

Features of good presentations include:

· Clear objectives

· Well structured

· An appropriate amount of content for time available

· Content pitched at the right level for the audience)

· Good materials – including well designed slides and handouts

· Clear, interesting delivery


The key steps in preparing to deliver a presentation are :

1. Define your objective – what you can realistically achieve in the time available. When doing this take into account

a. The audience – makeup, prior knowledge, what they want or need from you

b. The time available

2. Design your content – prepare an outline . It’s usually best to avoid using Powerpoint (or other presentation software) to do this. Use a pen and paper to sketch out your ideas and then tipdy them up and rearrange them if necessary.

3. Design your materials – prepare good quality slides and handouts. Think about their content and how they should look before you start typing

4. Practice and rehearse and then deliver

The standard of visual aids used during most presentations, particularly Powerpoint slides, is often quite poor. This is probably because little though is given to the design of the materials and insufficient time devoted to preparing them. We spent a major part of the workshop on slide design and I’ll be covering this in another post in the near future.


There’s been some debate about “leadership” within BOHS recently, with some discussion on the BOHS Linkedin forum and with a Workshop devoted to the issue at the BOHS Conference in Cardiff (presentation slides can be download from here). Last year, a number of your younger members were able to attend the Future Leader’s Institute run by the American Academy of Industrial Hygiene (the US equivalent of the British Faculty of Occupational Hygiene) in San Francisco last November.

From a British perspective the term “leadership” has a flavour of elitism about it and may make many of our members feel uneasy. But I think it is something that we do need to be thinking about in the context of professional development.

Traditionally, in the UK, the BOHS qualifications have focussed on the underlying knowledge and principles of occupational hygiene and the technical skills needed to understand and manage health risks. But anyone working as an occupational hygienist has to develop other skills such as how to communicate, persuade and influence, coach and mentor colleagues and develop strategy. All of these fall under the remit of “leadership” skills. There are some other competencies that professional occupational hygienists need to develop as they progress through their career – for example, project management, supervisory skills,  time management and planning and organisation skills. These could be described as “management skills” but some could also fall under the “leadership” banner.

Personally, I would categorise all of these competencies, attributes and abilities as “professional skills”. But whatever we call them they are an important part of personal and professional development and I do think that BOHS needs to be looking at how we incorporate them into our qualifications and professional development requirements for Faculty Membership.


I’m not convinced, though, that BOHS should be looking to establish a “Future Leadership” progamme like that run in the US. “Leadership” is something that is relevant to other aspects of an individual’s work and most companies have their own leadership and management training programmes. Management courses are usually expensive too – considerably greater than the cost of a BOHS Module course. So I doubt that a leadership course specifically aimed at occupational hygienists would be viable. But some aspects of “leadership”/”professional” skills could be incorporated within the BOHS qualifications, particularly the Diploma, and we could encourage individual members to bring them into their own professional development programme.


The BOHS could also look at devoting some of our Regional meetings and professional development courses at our Annual Conference to “professional skills”. The North West Region is taking a small step in that direction during the autumn. Our meeting on 31 October in Bootle will be a workshop covering report writing and the planning and delivery of presentations. It’s free to attend.

BOHS–Faculty Associate Membership launched

The BOHS has recently launched a new Associate grade of membership for the Faculty of Occupational Hygiene. Anyone who has successfully completed at least one of the Occupational Hygiene Modules, or  the Basic Principles of Occupational Hygiene introductory course is eligible to apply.

The grade is also open to those who hold one of the Faculty’s accredited degrees and would like to be a member of the Faculty whilst gaining the work experience needed to then sit the Certificate and/or Diploma oral examination. Applications can be made on-line or by downloading the application form on this page.

Is it worth joining at this level? I think it is. Most young (and not so young) people coming into the profession take at least 3 years to attain their Certificate and become eligible for Licentiate Membership of the Faculty. The Associate grade allows those new to the profession to get involved in the professional body and, hopefully, start to exert some influence.

I expect that the Faculty will want to look at how to involve Associates in its decision making processes and to develop services to help with professional and career development. Associates themselves could help with this by letting the Faculty know what they would like to see introduced.