Creating Accessible Slides for Presentations and Online Posting

Making presentations accessible is important, whether in a classroom, in a meeting, or any situation you find yourself delivering information to an audience. Now, more learning than ever is taking place online where inaccessible content can create unequal learning opportunities.

Do you want to learn what it takes to make an accessible presentation? Read on for information about creating accessible slides for both live and recorded presentations!

Thinking about Universal Design

Universal Design is the idea that things should be created so that the most people possible can make use of them. What might be considered an accommodation for one person may benefit many others. The following tips can be considered ways to improve the learning experience for all participants.

Live and Recorded Presentations

Whether your presentation is happening in-person, live virtually, or asynchronously, there are several steps you can take to make your slides accessible.

1. Use a large font size.

During in-person presentations, participants may have trouble seeing if they are sitting far away or have impaired sight. In the virtual environment, participants may be tuning in on a phone or tablet and a larger font will help them see better on a small screen.

Image reads "this text is way too small" in 12 point font.

Example of text that is too small to read from a distance, phone, or tablet in 12 point font.

Image reads "This text is big enough to read" in size 28 font

Example of text that is big enough to read from a distance in 28 point font.

2. Use sans serif fonts.

Fonts like Calibri, Franklin Gothic Book, Lucida Sans, and Segoe are the most accessible to people with reading comprehension disabilities. Leaving plenty of white space makes your slides both more readable and more visually appealing.

3. Minimize text on slides.

People who can’t see the slides may be missing out on important content, and too much text can distract from what you’re saying. When you do include text, read everything out loud.

Image of a slide with too much text. Slide is completely filled with text.

Example of a slide with too much text.

Image of a slide with the right amout of text, including three main bullet points and a few sub bullets not in complete sentences.

Example of a slide with the right amount of text.

4. Use high contrast colors.

High contrast colors can more easily be seen by someone with a visual impairment (black and white is a reliable option). Always explain your color-codes for people who can’t see them and so all participants are on the same page.

Top half contains dark blue background with white text reading "this is high contrast". Bottom half contains light blue background with white text reading "this is low contrast"

Examples of slide font and background using high and low contrast colors.

5. Summarize all charts and images.

Images and charts should also be explained fully so that all participants understand what you are communicating.

6. Use closed captions.

For recorded presentations, both PowerPoint and Google slides allow you to add closed captions to your video or audio file. For live sessions, consider using subtitles or creating a live transcription. Technology Services offers instructions on how activate subtitles for Zoom meetings.

Posting Slides Online

Virtual presentations should be recorded when possible as our usual participants may be in other time zones, experiencing technology issues, or dealing with a countless list of challenges brought on by the pandemic or life.

Posting your slides online in an accessible format is another way to make that information available.

1. Use built in slide designs.

Slide designs built into PowerPoint and Google Slides are formatted to be read in the correct order by a screen reader. If you need to make adjustments, PowerPoint allows you to check over and adjust the reading order of your slides.

Screenshot of office theme slide designs in MS PowerPoint.

Built-in slide designs in MS PowerPoint.

2. Give all slides a title.

Titles assist people who are reading the document with a screen reader or are taking notes and allow all readers to navigate the document more easily.

3. Add alt-text to all images.

Alternative text allows screen readers to describe images. Use concise, descriptive language that captures the motivation for including the image on the slide.

4. Use meaningful hyperlinks.

Both screen readers and the human eye struggle to read long hyperlinks. Instead, use descriptive hyperlinks that make clear where the link is going to take the reader.

Examples of inaccessible hyperlinks

Examples of inaccessible or non-descriptive hyperlinks.

Example of a descriptive hyperlink

Example of an accessible and descriptive hyperlink.

5. Create a handout and save it as a PDF.

Finally, always include your speaker’s notes when posting slides online as the slides themselves only contain a fraction of what you will be communicating in your presentation.

Example of a slide with speaker's notes saved as a handout

Example of a slide with speaker’s notes saved as a handout.

It is always easier to make your presentation accessible from the start. By keeping these tips in mind, you can make sure your content can be used by the widest audience possible and help create a more inclusive learning environment!

For more information about how to use and apply these features, check out the following resources:

Scholarly Smackdown: PowerPoint vs. Google Slides vs. Prezi

Everyone, at some point in their life, will be asked to give some kind of presentation to go along with a talk. For many of us, projecting a slide show along with a class report or talk has been something we’ve done since childhood. That being said, the nature of the presentation game is changing. While the PowerPoint remains the standard, new challengers are making a splash in the presentation world. In this article, I’ll go through the pros and cons of each of these platforms.

The PowerPoint logo.


Microsoft PowerPoint is so ingrained in our idea of modern presentations that giving any sort of slide show is often called “giving a PowerPoint”. But at the same time, does PowerPoint hold up to its new competitors? Let’s take a closer look.


Microsoft has shifted towards yearly subscriptions for various packages. UIUC affiliates can download the suite on their home computer for free. Otherwise, packages range between $70-$100 per year, or a one-time purchase of $150, which does not include applications such as OneDrive. For more information on options, go to the UIUC Webstore or Microsoft’s website.


Though it’s gotten better with time and my own familiarity with Microsoft Office, PowerPoint is not the most usable option of these. Part of that has to do with the sheer amount of options available in PowerPoint. That being said, the more you can customize your project, the greater the potential to misuse tools or make mistakes. Real problems arise when you want to do things that aren’t included in their preset slide layouts, and formatting images — while it has become simpler than in older versions of the software — remains, at times, an issue.

Web Capability:

Microsoft PowerPoint is first and foremost downloadable computer software. However, PowerPoint has recently come out with a competitor to online platforms called PowerPoint Online, which has most of the capabilities of PowerPoint software, but allows for you to collaborate in real-time with others. To log into PowerPoint Online one needs a Microsoft ID (UIUC affiliates can log in with their email). One cannot access or purchase access to PowerPoint Online without a Microsoft ID. PowerPoint Online is useful if you like the look of PowerPoint and want an easy-to-open and portable version, but I find that the interface is a little clunky, but it does integrate slideshows made on the desktop version easily. I think PowerPoint Online is an important addition to the Microsoft Suite because, with time, it will eliminate that awkward 15 minutes that happens during any and every presentation session where someone can’t get their jump drive to work.


When done well, a PowerPoint can look good. It isn’t going to be a beauty queen, but it will look good. However, people have a tendency to over-embellish a PowerPoint, or leave it so bare that it looks sad. There’s a happy medium when it comes to PowerPoint. Just make sure you include some images to spice up your PowerPoint and stay away from templates that include gradients — this isn’t a business convention in 2002.

The Google Slides logo.

Google Slides

Google Slides is Google’s online PowerPoint equivalent. Most notable for the ability to collaborate on presentations, it’s a simplified PowerPoint that you can access from anywhere (with Wifi).


Google Slides is free with your Google account. Your limiting factor here is memory. While the automatic Drive memory is typically more than enough for most people, you can add on extra memory or $2-$300 a month, depending on your needs.


Google Slides is the most bare bones of these three programs and the easiest to use. This is a trade-off, of course, because it also means that it has the least options of these choices. Google Slides’ controls are generally pretty similar to Google Docs and easy to learn. Even for those who aren’t familiar with other Google Drive programs, the tools are pretty intuitive — more so than PowerPoint’s.

Web Capability:

Google Slides was built for the Web. It’s the easiest to access of these programs, and the most widely-recognized Web application. That being said, it lacks a good offline mode, which can be frustrating when you need to work on a presentation without Wifi. However, its connectivity with the other online components of Google Drive are worth it.


I give Google Slides a one-up on PowerPoint for aesthetics, because while they have fewer templates, they tend to be a little more modern and aesthetically pleasing than PowerPoint’s. Further, while there are fewer overall customization options for Google Slides, the result can end up more attractive because your time and energy is focused on getting the job done, as opposed to playing around.

The Prezi logo.


Prezi is the newest presentation platform on the scene. Created as a more dynamic alternative to slideshow presentations, this web-based app uses zoomable canvases for presentations.


A basic account is free, and a basic student account (which includes privacy controls) is also free. Other individual packages range from $7 to $59.


Honestly, I find Prezi difficult to use. Part of that can be attributed to my years of experience with PowerPoint and similar platforms and my comparative inexperience with Prezi, but I do think that there’s an element that isn’t entirely my fault here. Moving through your presentation can be cumbersome, even in the edit mode. Customization options are more limited, and can easily ruin the flow of your presentation if you’re not careful. I do think that the more closely you stick to Prezi’s pre-made options, the easier it is to use. Also, the shorter your presentation is, the less cumbersome Prezi is both as a creator and consumer.

Web Capability:

Prezi is a web-based application, and offline access must be paid for.


Prezi is, undoubtedly, pretty. I find it a little ironic that animation — which PowerPoint has been criticized for — is one of the major selling points of Prezi. When I watch a Prezi, I do have the tendency to feel a little seasick, especially if it’s a presentation with a lot of points that zoom in and out. But overall, the aesthetics are the most modern of any of the platforms, the most visually-striking, and the most impressive if you are able to handle them correctly and create a good presentation.


Each of these have their merits and flaws, but I will be, personally, sticking with PowerPoint. Especially given the new online component of PowerPoint, it is a tried and true partner that may not produce the most striking results, but can accompany my work just fine. That being said, I’ll also look further into Prezi, maybe sign up for our Savvy Researcher workshop on it, and see if it does live up to its incredible reputation.

Learning how to present with Michael Alley’s The Craft of Scientific Presentations

Slideshows are serious business, and bad slides can kill. Many books, including the one I will review today, discuss the role that Morton Thiokol’s poorly designed and overly complicated slides about the Challenger O-rings played in why the shuttle was allowed to launch despite its flaws. PowerPoint has become the default presentation style in a wide range of fields — regardless of whether or not that is a good idea, see the 2014 Slate article “PowerPointLess” by Rebecca Schuman.  With all that being said, in order to learn a bit more about how to present, I read The Craft of Scientific Presentations by Michael Alley, an engineering communications professor at Penn State.

To start, what did Lise Meitner, Barbara McClintock, and Rosalind Franklin have in common? According to Michael Alley, their weak science communication skills meant they were not taken as seriously even though they had great ideas and did great research… Yes, the author discusses how Niels Bohr was a very weak speaker (which only somewhat had to do with English being his third language) but it’s mostly in the context of his Nobel Prize speech or trying to talk to Winston Churchill; in other words, the kinds of opportunities that many great women in science never got… Let’s just say the decontextualized history of science factoids weaken some of the author’s arguments…

This is not to say that science communication is not important but these are some important ideas to remember:

Things presentation skills can help you with:

  • Communicating your ideas with a variety of audiences more effectively
  • Marketing your research and yourself as a researcher more effectively
  • Creating engaging presentations that people pay attention to

Things presentation skills cannot help you with:

  • Overcoming systemic inequality in academia and society at large, though speaking out about your experiences and calling out injustice when you see it can help in a very long term way
  • Not feeling nervous especially if you have an underlying anxiety disorder, though practice can potentially reduce that feeling

For any presentation:  know your topic well, be very prepared, and actually practice giving your talk more than you do anything else (such as making slides). But like any skill, the key is practice practice practice!

For the most part, this book is a great review of the common sense advice that’s easy to forget when you are standing in front of a large audience with everyone looking at you expectantly. The author also offers a lot of great critiques of the default presentations you can churn out with PowerPoint and of PowerPoint itself. PowerPoint has the advantage of being the most common type of slideshow presentation software, though alternatives exist and have been discussed in depth elsewhere on the blog and in university resources. Alley introduces the Assertion-Evidence approach in which you reach people through presenting your research as memes images with text statement overlay. Specifically, you use one sentence summaries and replace bullet points with visualizations. Also you have to keep in account Murphy’s Law, where slide color or a  standard font not being supported can throw off a presentation. Since Murphy’s Law does not disappear when you create a presentation around visuals, especially custom-made images and video, you may need more preparation time for this style of presentation.

Creating visualizations and one sentence summaries as well as practicing your speech to prepare for these things not working is a great strategy for preparing for a research talk. One interesting thing to think about is if Alley admits that less tested methods like TED (Technology-Entertainment-Design) and pecha kucha work for effective presentations, how much of the success of this method has to do with people caring and putting time into their presentation than a change in presentation style?

Overall this book was a good review of public speaking advice specifically targeted towards a science and engineering audience and hopefully will get people taking more time and thinking more about their presentations.

Presentation resources on campus:

  • For science specific, the definitely check out our new science communication certificate through the 21st Century Scientists Working Group and the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. They offer a variety of workshops and opportunities for students develop their skills as science communicators. There’s also science communication workshops throughout the country over the summer.
  • If you have time join a speech or debate team (Mock Trial or parliamentary style debate in particular)  it’s the best way to learn how to speak extemporaneously, answer hostile questions on the fly, and get coaching and feedback on what you need to work on. If you’re feeling really bold, performing improv comedy can help with these skills as well.
  • If you don’t have time to be part of a debate team or you can’t say “yes and…” to joining an improv comedy troupe take advantage of opportunities to present when you can at various events around campus. For example, this year’s Pecha Kucha Night is going to be June 10th at Krannert Center and applications are due by April 30!  If this is still too much find someone, whether in your unit, the Career Center, etc. who will listen to you talk about your research. Or if you have motivation and don’t mind cringe get one of your friends to record you presenting (if you don’t want to use your phone for this check out the loanable tech at the UGL!)

And for further reading take a look at:

Hope this helps, and good luck with your research presentations!