Many churches spend thousands of dollars on projectors, screens, and equipment to project video, lyrics, scripture, and sermon points. But rarely does a church spend time learning to maximize the technology through quality design principles. In other words, why spend thousands on a projector if your slides look worthless (ie. People complain because they are hard to read or too distracting).
If you are using technology to project song lyrics, Scripture references, and sermon points, you need to make sure the technology is effective and not distracting. The layout and design of your powerpoint slides are much like the delivery of a sermon: for better or worse, they both communicate. Effectiveness in communication is not a matter of being flashy or fancy, but rather it is a matter of being thoughtful and appropriate. So, if you choose to use projection technology to communicate in your worship service, take it seriously and prepare it appropriately.
I’m certainly not a design expert, but over the years I have found these tips to be helpful in creating slides that are effective:
1) Use a simple background. The idea of a PowerPoint background is the same as a picture background: to add context without distracting from the main thing. In the case of song lyrics or sermon points, the main thing is the text. The name of the game in choosing a background is to keep it simple and non-distracting. Typically, an interesting picture is a bad idea because it steals the attention away from the text. If you do use an interesting picture, consider placing the focal point of the picture (what draws the eye) to an edge of the slide away from the text so they do not compete for attention. Another way to lessen the distraction is by blurring the picture to simulate a photograph in which the background is naturally out of focus.
In most cases, PowerPoint has backgrounds already built in that are suitable for church purposes. In addition, plenty of websites offer downloadable backgrounds.
My personal preference is to stay away from changing backgrounds within the same presentation. I also tend to avoid moving backgrounds –although I’ve seen them used effectively without distracting from the text.
2) After you have chosen a background, the next item to consider is the font, size, spacing, and justification of your font. Here are a few suggestions:
- Use a simple font that is easy to read. This is important for several reasons. First, if you can’t read it, what’s the point? Second, if you transfer your file to another computer, the chances of the other computer having the same fancy font you used from the first computer is slim. Finally, crazy fonts distract attention from the main focus.
- When it comes to the size of the font, bigger is better. You want to make sure everyone on the back row can read the text. The best way judge this is by testing your slides in the actual location where you will be using it. Once you determine the minimum font size necessary for readability, don’t go below it. Note: just because a certain size works in one font, doesn’t mean it will work for all fonts. Test each font you plan to use. Be sure to pick a color that is in strong contrast with your background for maximal clarity.
- It’s best to limit yourself to using no more than 2 different fonts per presentation: one for titles, and one for text. More fonts = more distracting.
- Set the margins of your text box away from the edge of the slides. Many projectors or TV screens will cut off parts of your slide, so you want to stay a safe distance away with your text.
- Finally, be consistent. Use the same font, size, spacing, justification and margins on every slide to keep them from looking like a disjointed mess. Make sure your titles are all the same size and font as well. Instead of creating each slide from scratch, duplicate slides and change the content in order to ensure that the margins, spacing, etc. match.
3) Limit animation: As a general rule, animations are a bad idea. They are just plain distracting. But if you must use them, do it sparingly… and then, second-guess your decision!
Also, if you transfer your presentation to another computer, chances are that the animations will not function properly on the second computer.
4) Less is more. Pastors, think of your PowerPoint as a scaled-down outline to help people stay on track. The less detail the better. Otherwise, people will spend too much attention to your PowerPoint and not enough on the sermon. Don’t try to make a slide for every little detail. Keep it simple.
This is also helpful in your presentation. The last thing you want to think about during your sermon is whether or not you are “missing a slide” in your delivery! PowerPoint should complement your sermon and serve the congregation by helping them keep up with the overall message.
5) Proof spelling, check slide order, and practice. Want to be taken seriously? Don’t project misspelled words. Want to serve rather than confuse the congregation during singing? Make sure the order of slides is correct. Want to avoid a technical disaster? Make sure the person who will be running your presentation practices with you.
Remember, the whole idea of video projection is to help communicate a message effectively. For that reason, the two key phrases I try to remember when creating PowerPoint for congregational use are 1) serve the people, and 2) remove unnecessary distractions. If the slides don’t serve anybody, don’t use them. If the slides are more distracting than helpful, eliminate them or redesign.
If you are going to have the technology, take the time to get your money’s worth. Trust me, your congregation will be grateful!