Powerpoint Do’s and Don’ts

Believe it or not, but PowerPoint, the ever present presentation tool, has been with us for nearly three decades. As anyone who has ever sat through a particularly dull slide deck can attest, there is a fine art to building and exhibiting a compelling presentation that keeps an audience’s attention. Here are a few tips to make your next PowerPoint something special:

DO: Stay Concise

The biggest rookie PowerPoint mistake is to copy and paste all your information verbatim into the slides.

Not only is this incredibly boring, but no one is going to have the time or inclination to read a wall of text. Don’t turn a presentation into a book.

There’s no hard rule, but a good general principle is to limit yourself to five words per line and five lines per slide.

DON’T: Overdo the Special Effects

After years of updates, PowerPoint is extremely full featured at this point.

But, while it can be fun to play with all the bells and whistles, too often they just end up being distractions,

Avoid overusing animations, flashy transitions, jarring sound effects, busy backgrounds, unnecessary drop shadows, ornate fonts, or any other effect that doesn’t make your information clearer.

DO: Use Humor

Because the format is so well established and we’ve all seen thousands of them, even the best powerpoint presentations can struggle to engage audiences.

Don’t treat a presentation like an open mic night at the comedy club, but the occasional comic, snappy pun, or amusing anecdote will liven things up, make your arguments more memorable, and prevent monotony from setting in.

DON’T: Just Read the Slides

Your audience, presumably, can already read. They don’t want to have the words on the screen read back to them word for word. Your slides should support an oral presentation, not just reiterate it.

Know the material well enough that your bullet points will jog your memory of the finer details that need to be addressed.

DO: Look Up!

Even if you aren’t just reading from the slides and are just referring to them, you should still look up now and then to maintain eye contact with the audience– how else will you know if they are still awake?

DON’T: Rush

Give your audience ample time to read each slide, but don’t delay so long as to lose their attention.

Also, don’t start speaking as soon as the next slide loads. Give the audience a few moments to scan the slide and get ready to hear what you have to say about it.

Likewise, don’t hit the next slide as soon as you finish discussing the current one. Give readers time to digest the information, and check out the room to see if they look ready to move on.

DO: Be Bold and Direct

Use bold colors and sharp contrasts, not only because it will enhance legibility but because it imparts emotion and energy into your presentation.

Similarly, when it comes to fonts for presentations, bigger is almost always better. A point size of 18 is just about the bare minimum. Shoot for something closer to the mid to upper 20s. Also, bear in mind, sans serif fonts are considered more legible at big sizes.

DON’T: Over Rely on Clipart

Especially in creative fields, people will notice clip art that doesn’t quite fit. Pull images and video from the web that are highly relevant and help drive your point home in an appealing way.

DO: Save Handouts for the End

There’s some debate about this one. Some authorities believe following a handout will improve audience recall, but many believe it just pulls awareness away from the presenter.

Attendees already have the constant threat of smartphones to distract them. Don’t give them anything else that might overshadow the main event.

Be the center of attention at all times. Make your case and make it well, and then provide supplementary materials for people to look over at their leisure.

DON’T: Overuse Statistics

No one needs to see all the raw data that went into your presentation. They want you to synthesize that information for them.

Slides overloaded with too many facts and figures will be tuned out. Besides anyone who needs all the granular details will ideally be able to get them on your website or handout materials.

If you have a stat you think is vital to the story you are telling, try to at least format it in a visually interesting way like a simple chart or graph.

DO: Use Bullets and Numbered Lists

Humans process information better when it’s organized in discrete chunks. Take out information and break it down into major sections, and then break those down into subsections.

Information should flow in an orderly fashion and be extremely easy to understand and digest.

Progressively released bullet points (that pop up one at a time) can also be useful for helping the audience keep track of where you are in the presentation.

DON’T: Be Afraid to Take a Pause

You don’t have to run through your slides unceasingly. Some presenters prefer to leave questions to the end, but others allow questions at any time.

But, if a question arises that causes a digression, consider hitting the letter “B” on the keyboard. This will pause the presentation and clear the screen,

If you leave the current slide up many eyes will stay fixated on it even as you are discussing something totally different.