Updated: Sep 12, 2020
PowerPoint isn’t going away as the preferred presentation tool for business people. However, it’s still the *bane of corporate life, known for turning product demonstrations, sales pitches and staff announcements into a boring heap of slop.
By the way, *bane is an ancient word for murderer, which is an apt phrase for PowerPoint considering how many presentations it maims, tortures and kills.
We’ve all abused PowerPoint. However, if we want to keep using the tool, let’s get better at it. To help you, I’ve collected 20 tips that will put you on the righteous path of delivering lively, dynamic and delightful presentations instead of dragging your audience down into the boring depths of PowerPoint Hell.
1. Start by answering these three questions: What is the purpose of this PowerPoint presentation? Who is my audience? What do I want them to do?
2. Storyboard first: Once you’re firm on the purpose, your audience, and the response you want from them, create an outline of what you think goes in the introduction, body and conclusion. Make sure it’s high-level. Test it with peers or team leaders and then flesh out the trajectory of your story in full. For help with storyboarding, read this article.
3. Keep it simple: You might have a lot of information you want to impart to your audience but keep your slide deck simple, brief and succinct. The aim is to create a clean and uncluttered presentation so your audience is focussed on what you have to say. Don’t be tempted to cram as much content as possible on the slide. All that stuff belongs in your speaker notes.
The same rule applies for complex presentations like explaining your technical solution to a prospective customer. Have the discipline to keep your slide deck simple and use your knowledge and expertise to talk through your competitive solution. This allows for a more natural presentation style and creates an opportunity for a two-way conversation with your audience.
If you believe this is still not enough, provide your audience with a leave-behind of detailed information in a Word document or give them a version of your PowerPoint presentation with speaker notes.
4. Slide layout: There are no hard and fast rules for slide layout. The key is to create a mix of layouts, which makes for an interesting presentation and will keep your audience engaged. For example, one slide may have a title with three lines of text and a supporting visual, another slide might employ a title and 6 lines of text only while yet another slide will only show a diagram with a supporting title, and so on.
5. Limit amount of words per line: As much as possible stick to about 8 words per line. Sometimes I will use 10 to 15 words per line for one or two slides; however, as much as possible I try to stick to 8 words. This means the audience can quickly read my text before focussing back on me as the presenter.
6. Limit lines of text: Some PowerPoint experts advise you should only have 3 lines of text per slide. In B2B IT, we struggle being brief so I’m not going to ask you to stick to that rule. However, at the most I wouldn’t go beyond 6 lines of text per slide.
7. Take out punctuation marks: If you want to emphasise a point, do it while you’re speaking. There is no need to punctuate text! :-)
8. Limit formatting: Simple formatting also helps create clean, uncluttered PowerPoint presentations. For example, you don’t necessarily have to use bullet points and full stops.
9. Employ the right font size: Generally, anything less than 24-point will be too small. Rule of thumb: keep most text 28 or 32 point, with titles 36 to 44 point.
10. Stick to one font type with different sizes and styles (bold, italics): Too many font types make the words on the screen look schizophrenic – creating an unpleasant experience for your audience. A professional graphic designer can effectively employ 3 font types across one slide because they know what they’re doing.
11. Types of fonts that look good in PowerPoint: According to some experts, fonts like Garamond, Futura and Gill Sans are ideal while Helvetica is to be avoided, as it’s over-used. You can of course use other fonts. The trick is to test their readability in presentation mode while standing at the back of a room.
12. Ensure you have plenty of white or negative space so your images, diagrams or content don’t crowd each other or the slide.
13. Employ a consistent visual theme: While you need to follow your company’s brand guidelines when it comes to applying consistent themes across your headers and footers, theme consistency also applies to things like images, diagrams, indenting, font styles and sizing. When choosing a vector image of a person, stay consistent by using the same style of vector image for other things. If you use square bullets on one slide, don’t use round bullets for the next slide. Theme consistency enables a clean presentation, one that is visually appealing to your viewer.
14. Understand how to use colour: I cringe reviewing PowerPoint decks that employ all the colours of the rainbow. When assaulted by colours running amok, the pop song, U.G.L.Y. comes to mind, “You ain’t got no alibi / you ugly eh! Hey! You ugly.” Yep, as the song goes, the mishmash of colours, “could make an onion cry” or make your audience run for the hills. Here’s the rule of thumb: use a subset of colours, i.e. different shades of blue. Just keep it simple. Also keep in mind that colours can evoke emotions, for example, blue inspires trust while red can arouse positive energy or a feeling of danger.
15. Keep in mind background colour: What’s best, a light or dark background? It depends. While the background colour will be somewhat dictated by your corporate brand, experts recommend going dark for electronic displays like computer screens and televisions. They also consider it the best choice for long presentations like all day seminars and client workshops. It’s important that the lights are dimmed of course. However, light backgrounds are more versatile on any projector or lighting especially if your room is well lit. White backgrounds are also good if you insert an ‘isolated image’ which is an object floating over a white background.
16. Use high-quality graphics: Avoid cartoonish clip art images as they will make your presentation look unprofessional and amateurish. Hubspot has a great list of image libraries you can access for free. Check it out here and bookmark.
17. Employ a variety of visuals to better connect with key personality types in the room. For example, Expressives want to know the big picture or possibilities and images or diagrams that support storytelling techniques like ‘What if’ or ‘Imagine if’ appeal to them. Amiables seek safety and harmony and thus photos of faces and people interacting are ideal. For Analytical types who look for proven detailed information or Drivers who are direct and results focussed, use pie charts that show changes over time, vertical bar charts to show quantity over time or line charts to demonstrate trends.
18. Keep diagrams, charts and graphs simple: What you don’t want is your audience trying to decipher complicated diagrams or charts. They may get irritated when they can’t work it out or feel you’re too clever and they are being patronised. Complicated diagrams also detract from you, the speaker. Rule of thumb: Diagrams, charts and graphs should provide enough information to support your argument or to highlight a key measurement, statistic, feature or benefit.
19. Limit transitions and builds (animations): Animations and transitions should have a purpose like helping you control the pace of your presentation such as moving from one topic to another or using compare and contrast; for example, showing a prospective customer their current technology landscape versus a possible future technology landscape. Be subtle and cautious using transitions and builds. Don’t over-do it because too many builds can frustrate your audience. Remember you are the messenger not your slide deck.
20. Insert video or audio: Static PowerPoint presentations even those well-designed can get a bit repetitive so breaking it up with a video adds another dynamic element. Just make sure that the video or audio is flawlessly integrated with the PowerPoint. You don’t want video glitches disrupting the flow of your presentation.
Apply the above tips to help you create engaging PowerPoint presentations that leave your audience energised and curious to find out more.
Finally, always test your PowerPoint in presentation mode especially by reviewing it at the back of a room. You’ll pick up inconsistencies in design and story flow.
Golden rule, keep it simple so that most of the focus is on you. Of course, this means you need to know your stuff and be comfortable presenting in front of an audience. To help you improve verbal presentation skills, read this article.