Imagination is our power

#1: Keep it simple


PowerPoint uses slides with a horizontal, or Landscape,orientation. The software was designed as a convenient way to display graphicalinformation that would support the speaker and supplement the presentation. Theslides themselves were never meant to be the star of the show. (The star, ofcourse, is your audience.) People came to hear you and be moved or informed (orboth) by you and your message. Don’t let your message and your ability to tella story get derailed by slides that are unnecessarily complicated, busy, orfull of what Edward Tufte calls “chartjunk.” Nothing in your slide should be superfluous, ever.

Your slides should have plenty of white space, or negativespace. Do not feel compelled to fill empty areas on your slide with your logoor other unnecessary graphics or text boxes that do not contribute to betterunderstanding. The less clutter you have on your slide, the more powerful yourvisual message will become.

#2 Limit bullet points and text


Your presentationis for the benefit of the audience. But boring an audience with bullet pointafter bullet point is of little benefit to them. Which brings us to the issueof text. The best slides may have no text at all. This may sound insane giventhe dependency of text slides today, but the best PowerPoint slides will bevirtually meaningless without the narration (that is you). Remember, the slidesare meant to support the narration of the speaker, not make the speakersuperfluous.

Many people oftensay something like this: “Sorry I missed your presentation. I hear it wasgreat. Can you just send me your PowerPoint slides?” But if they are goodslides, they will be of little use without you. Instead of a copy of yourPowerPoint slides, it is far better to prepare a written document thathighlights your content from the presentation and expands on that content.Audiences are much better served receiving a detailed, written handout as atakeaway from the presentation, rather than a mere copy of your PowerPointslides. If you have a detailed handout or publication for the audience to bepassed out after your talk, you need not feel compelled to fill yourPowerPoint slides with a great deal of text.

We’ll talk moreabout this in the delivery section below, but as long as we are talking abouttext, please remember to never, ever turn your back on the audience and readtext from the slide word for word.

This slide is not unusual, but it is not a visual aid, it is more like an eye chart.
Try to avoid text-heavy (and sleep inducing) slides like this one.
Aim for something like this simple slide above.
And this is even better.

#3: Limit transitions and builds (animation)


Use object builds and slide transitions judiciously. Objectbuilds (also called animations), such as bullet points, should not be animatedon every slide. Some animation is a good thing, but stick to the most subtleand professional (similar to what you might see on the evening TV news broadcast).A simple Wipe Left-to-Right (from the Animations menu) is good fora bullet point, but a Move or Fly, for example, is too tedious and slow (andyet, is used in many presentations today). Listeners will get bored quickly ifthey are asked to endure slide after slide of animation. For transitionsbetween slides, use no more than two or three types of transition effects anddo not place transition effects between all slides.

#4: Use high quality graphics


Use high qualitygraphics, including photographs. You can take your own high quality photographswith your digital camera, purchase professional stock photography, or use theplethora of high quality images available online. (But be cautious of copyrightissues.) Never simply stretch a small, low-resolution photo to make it fit yourlayout–doing so will degrade the resolution even further.

Avoid usingPowerPoint Clip Art or other cartoonish line art.Again, if it is included in the software, your audience has seen it a milliontimes before. It may have been interesting in 1993, but today the inclusion ofsuch clip art often undermines the professionalism of the presenter. There areexceptions, of course, and not all PowerPoint art is dreadful, but use itcarefully and judiciously.

I often use imagesof people in my slides, as photography of people tends to help the audienceconnect with the slide on a more emotional level. If the photographic image issecondary in importance, then I decrease the opacity and add a Gaussian Blur ormotion filter in Photoshop. If the photographic image is the primary area Iwant the audience to notice (such as a picture of a product), then the imagecan be more pronounced and little (or no) text is needed.

Try to avoid cheesy clip art like this.
This edited stock photograph is more effective and professional.
In this title slide, the image is primary.
In this slide from the same presentation, the image is secondary and pushedto the back by editing it first in Photoshop.

#5: Have a visual theme but avoid using PowerPoint templates


You clearly need a consistent visual theme throughout yourpresentation, but most templates included in PowerPoint have been seen by youraudience countless times (and besides, the templates are not all that great tobegin with). Your audience expects a unique presentation with new (at least tothem) content; otherwise, why would they be attending your talk? No audiencewill be excited about a cookie-cutter presentation, and we must therefore shyaway from any supporting visuals, such as the ubiquitous PowerPoint DesignTemplate, that suggests your presentation is formulaic or prepackaged.

You can make your own background templates, which will bemore tailored to your needs. You can then save the PowerPoint file as a DesignTemplate (.pot) and the new template will appear among your standard Microsofttemplates for your future use. You can also purchase professional templates online.

#6: Use appropriate charts


Always be asking yourself, “How much detail do Ineed?” Presenters are usually guilty of including too much data in theironscreen charts. There are several ways to display your data in graphic form;here are a few things to keep in mind:

Pie charts. Usedto show percentages. Limit the slices to 4-6 and contrast the most importantslice either with color or by exploding the slice.


Vertical bar charts.Used to show changes in quantity over time. Best if you limit the bars to 4-8.


Horizontal bar charts.Used to compare quantities. For example, comparing sales figures among the fourregions of the company.


Line charts. Usedto demonstrate trends. For example, here is a simple line chart showing thatour sales have gone up every year. The trend is good. The arrow comes in laterto underscore the point: Our future looks good!


In general, tables are well suited for side-by-sidecomparisons of quantitative data.


However, tables can lack impact on a visceral level. If youwant to show how your contributions are significantly higher than two otherparties, for example, it would be best to show that in the form of a bar chart(below). But if you’re trying to downplaythe fact that your contributions are lower than others, a table will displaythat information in a less dramatic or emotional way.


#7: Use color well


Color evokes feelings. Color is emotional. The right colorcan help persuade and motivate. Studies show that color usage can increaseinterest and improve learning comprehension and retention.

Youdo not need to be an expert in color theory, but it’s good for businessprofessionals to know at least a bit on the subject. Colors can be divided intotwo general categories: cool (such as blue and green) and warm (such as orangeand red). Cool colors work best for backgrounds, as they appear to recede awayfrom us into the background. Warm colors generally work best for objects in theforeground (such as text) because they appear to be coming at us. It is nosurprise, then, that the most ubiquitous PowerPoint slide color scheme includesa blue background with yellow text. You do not need to feel compelled to usethis color scheme, although you may choose to use a variation of those colors.

If you will be presenting in a dark room(such as a large hall), a dark background (dark blue, gray, etc.) with white orlight text will work fine. But if you plan to keep most of the lights on (whichis highly advisable), a white background with black or dark text works muchbetter. In rooms with a good deal of ambient light, a screen image with a darkbackground and light text tends to washout, but dark text on a light backgroundwill maintain its visual intensity a bit better.

Learn more:

  • has some great Flash tutorials, including oneon color.
  • Go to the to learn more aboutcolor.
  • has a good short article on how to usethe Color Schemes in PowerPoint.

#8: Choose your fonts well


Fonts communicate subtle messages in and of themselves,which is why you should choose fonts deliberately. Use the same font setthroughout your entire slide presentation and use no more than twocomplementary fonts (e.g., Arial and Arial Bold). Make sure you know thedifference between a serif font (e.g., Times New Roman) and a sans-serif font (e.g.,Helvetica or Arial).

Serif fonts were designed to be used in documents filledwith lots of text. They’re said to be easier to read at small point sizes, butfor onscreen presentations, the serifs tend to get lost due to the relativelylow resolution of projectors. Sans- serif fonts are generally best forPowerPoint presentations, but try to avoid the ubiquitous Helvetica. I oftenchoose to use Gill Sans, as it is somewhere in between a serif and a sans-seriffont and is professional yet friendly and “conversational.”Regardless of what font you choose, make sure the text can be read from theback of the room.


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