Making effective PowerPoint slides

PowerPoint is a great tool. But like any tool, it can be misused. Ever hit your thumb with a hammer?

I remember when people first started using PowerPoint in their presentations. Some of the presentations were almost dizzying. I’ve seen some where the presenter used a different, almost psychedelic, color scheme on every slide and every transition.

Thankfully, most of us have gotten away from that. Still, another problem remains: slides with way too much stuff going on. You know the kind: slides that are so dense with text they might as well just project a Word document.

It’s important to remember that a good slide enhances your message and helps your audience focus on your most important points. I’ve been reading a really good book on this subject: “Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds. He says when building your slides think “maximum effect with minimum means.”

We’ll talk more about how you can make more effective presentations in future posts. For now, I want to share some design tips:

  • Use a simple, but attractive design. Design your slides so that your audience is guided through the most important points.
  • Never use type smaller than 24 points. If your text won’t fit, re-write it or break it up into several slides.
  • Reynolds hates bullets and says there’s almost no reason to use them. Plenty of other people disagree. If you use bullets, keep them to a minimum. Use no more than four-to-six bullets per slide and only one line (six words or less) per bullet. (Ah, sorry about all these bullets…. )
  • Don’t use all caps or italics – they’re hard to read quickly.
  • Use one font and one color scheme for your presentation. Use a different color or bold print only when you need to make a bigger impact.
  • Use a subtle background. It’s usually best to use dark type on a light background. It’s hard for some people to read light text on a dark background.
  • Use only high-quality images. Tiny, low-res images stolen off the web will make your presentation look cheap.
  • Don’t use animations and special effects unless they’re important to the point you’re trying to make.

Finally, here’s a good tip to tell if your slide is too cluttered or not. Step back six to eight feet from your screen. Can you still read the slide? If you can’t, your audience won’t be able to either.


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