Let’s C.A.R.E Enough to Stop Giving C.R.A.P Presentations

Whenever I try and ask someone to help me teach students, and adults, about slide design I’m always given a lot of CRAP.  Slide design, heck any design talk always centers around CRAP, and I don’t like it one bit. I’m not going to stand in a high school classroom and tell students “Hey I want your slides to look great, so make sure they look like CRAP.”

For those of you not familiar with the design world, CRAP is an acronym. I first became familiar with CRAP through Robin Williams excellent book The Non-Designer’s Design Book. I read it back in 1994 and I used it to teach my journalism students about design. I’ve always been interested in design. Design communicates. It communicates intention, empathy, awareness, effort, precision, skill, connection… so many things. If I can teach a student how to design a great slide, I can teach them how to write. The basic approach to writing and design is the same. But I can’t get our mindset right, if I start off with CRAP. So what is CRAP?

  • Constrast
  • Repetition
  • Alignment
  • Proximity

Those are the four basic principles of design. But I don’t want a crappy acronym. I want an acronym that shows that we care about our slide design and one that shows we care about our audience. So I’ve been thinking of an alternative for years. Years. I’ve asked the super nice and always helpful Dr. McGriff. I’ve done late night twitter DM brainstorming with Dan Ryder. But nothing has really stuck. But I’ve never given up, because I care. Because I care… hmmm…


So my Master’s thesis was on the impact of slide presentations on learning. One of the things I learned from Edward Tufte the godfather of data visualization is that slides: PowerPoint, Google, Keynote- are not necessarily the best medium for explaining information when there are complex relationships between data. In fact trying to wedge a bunch of information onto some slides can lead to disastrous results. (The Slide that Killed 7 People) Sometimes a paper handout is better.


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Icon from The Noun Project, I love using The Noun Project for design projects

The second thing that I learned was that we can only take in certain types of information at the same time. According to Richard Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multi-Media Learning we cannot listen to text, while we read text. In fact, doing both at the same time DECREASES recall. That’s bad for teachers, that’s bad for students. What’s really crappy about this, is that the bullet slide is the slide I see most often shared by teachers and students.

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Slides aren’t for a bunch of text, they are for things you can’t do with a paper handout. They are for big pictures that go with a story. They are for video. They are for audio. They are for examples, and metaphors, and things that will help your audience understand, accept, and remember. So how can you create a slide that shows that you care and that your audience will care about?

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Okay. This I can work with. This I can teach students. If my students just showed C.A.R.E. in their slide design, we would be well on our way to great presentations. Let’s break this down. (I’ll insert the full Google Slide presentation at the bottom of this blog post).

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Contrast is huge in story telling: it’s the hero vs. the villain, it’s day vs. night, it’s black and white. You can use size contrast, color contrast, typography contrast- how do you want to show difference and why do you want to show difference. Heck you might want to make past events all black and white photos and the future events all color photos, it’s up to you.

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Alignment is probably my biggest pet peeve in slide design. Everything on the slide should line up with something: for a reason. Let me show you the problem:

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At the beginning of the year 80% of my students will either give me a slide of bullet text or a slide of pictures just dumped onto a slide. It’s cool, I love the pictures, but my OCD is going nuts when I look at the slide above. With just a little cropping and moving around, you can have something your audience will appreciate.

SIDE-NOTE: That’s right. I actually take time out of my teaching “content” to teach the skills of making slides. What’s the good of having your students make slides if they look like CRAP? Most of our students will have to do a presentation later in life, some will get paid to do it. Who is going to teach them that skill? Isn’t that what school is for, to teach skills? And not every student is going to take art or photography so I’m talking to you, history teachers, world language teachers, science teachers etc… if you are asking students to make slides, teach them how to make effective slide presentations.

So what does above slide of my my dad look like when things are aligned? Well you have a ton of choices.

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Or you could use the rule of thirds or heck, probably the easiest way to align a picture is to align a single picture with the frame of the slide. Just make the picture the size of your slide and talk about the picture.

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That single picture says a lot about my dad.

Not lets move onto the next topic:

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Try staying consistent with your colors, type, shapes etc… people like repetition, they like parallel structure, in design and writing. It’s also fun to play off the expectations of repetition and slide right back to contrast.

So we still have the E of C.A.R.E. the E stands for three things: Entrance, Extras, and Exit. So let’s go back to the beginning.



One of the things I like to do the most is to have an intro slide that is sitting up on the projection screen BEFORE the presentation starts. Something that gets my audience or class thinking, wondering, curious about what they are about to discover. Often I will use a cinemagraph like the picture about. It’s a picture where just one part of the image is moving, it’s more calm than a GIF, some GIFs are just too crazy. But you could just use a single image, or even a word or quote. How do you want to start? Don’t just start with a splash page with your title, your name, and credentials.


Remember those Richard Scarry books. My favorite part was searching for Lowly worm. He wasn’t the main star of the book, he was an extra. People love the extras. Here are some extra ideas.

and finally…

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Student members of The Illumination Foundation service club

Years ago I was asked to give a presentation in front of 60 women from the Fountain Valley Women’s League. They were a bit concerned about how things were going in our local schools. I gave a talk titled “The Kids Are Alright.” I showed them slide after slide of all the wonderful and thoughtful things our students are doing for each other and the community. I ended with this slide.

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It was a great Exit that showed how students C.A.R.E. 

  • Contrast
  • Alignment
  • Repetition
  • Entrance- Extras- Exit
  • C.A.R.E.


This is the end of my post on slide design, but slide design is just the first part of a great presentation. The second part is all about how you R.E.A.D. a room. Wanna stick around and learn how to READ a room? Let’s do this.

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  • Reason
  • Empathy
  • Audience
  • Decorum

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Stop with focusing on information. Start focusing on your reason: start with why.

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Everyone has a story. Take the time to learn your audience’s name, face, and story. Every big, huge varsity football player started like this during freshmen football camp. To know that kid you need to know what took them from point A to their current point. Once you work towards empathy with your audience, you can truly embrace their journey, and their destination.

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Speaking of audience, let’s talk about moving from empathy to engagement by meeting them where they live.

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You are not your audience. What is their experience? Where do they live. Your job as a presenter isn’t to make your students or audience struggle up to where you are, it’s to learn about their world, how they learn, how they live and go to where your Audience lives. Empathy is not enough, you need to take Action and connect with your audience in their world. If you are speaking to teachers, are they new teachers, math teachers, what is their district like? Do your research and speak their language. Go to your audience what are their worries, their dreams, their values, their hopes.

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Decorum means- is it fitting. Does the tone, the material fit the situation and the audience. You shouldn’t wear a bathing suit in a church, and you shouldn’t curse in front of children. Is your presentation appropriate? Are you awkwardly trying to add humor when your topic is super serious? When you are walking in the snow in the woods and it’s beautiful and peaceful, how should you act? Is it fitting? Is it decorous? I hope so.

That’s it. You now know how to C.A.R.E. enough to create effective slide design and how to R.E.A.D. a room to turn that slide into a great presentation. You can do a lot with slides, even just a single slide. You could create an entire weeks worth of activities off a single slide, like this:

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Or this slide created by Amanda Sandoval go follow her on Twitter or go to her presentations, she is a master at slide design.

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Please feel free to use C.A.R.E. and R.E.A.D. on your own blogs, presentations, or other free or paid work as long as you don’t copyright them as your own. They are

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Additional resources: 

My former Student Presentation Examples

Educator Presentation Examples

4 thoughts on “Let’s C.A.R.E Enough to Stop Giving C.R.A.P Presentations

  1. David, I salute your revision/remix/rethink about CRAP presentation design! Bravo! I like that you added nuance and purpose to the presentation design. Your explanation and examples help clarify the purpose of the principles and show “how.” Once upon a time, I used the variation of the acronym PARC to replace the CRAP when I was teaching my graduate students at San Jose State University. I like CARE much better. Much.

    Liked by 1 person

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