12 Tips to Better PowerPoint Presentations 


In December, we offered several tips to improve your presentations. A few readers asked for technical advice in learning how to make their PowerPoint presentations more effective. Here are some very useful ways to turn your presentations from “Ho-hum” to “Wow, do I see your point!”

Tips for the best presentations can be categorized in three primary buckets: Readability, Bells & Whistles, and learning how your PowerPoint deck complements your presentation. Remember, however, that there are many, many opinions on how to render the best presentation. A simple Google search will offer infinite possibilities. The list of tips below is a composite snapshot of advice from various sources.

Note: Some of you may be using Apple’s Keynote software. No worries; you can apply the same concepts to your Keynote presentations.

Being able to read your slides is the number one problem associated with using PowerPoint for your presentations. If you’ve ever attended a large audience presentation and sat in the back of the room, then you know what this point is all about. Each time the presenter says, “Now I know you can’t see this Excel chart or set of numbers from the back of the room ...,” he or she loses credibility. If a presentation has multiple slides with charts, then it’s a good idea to offer the handouts prior to the presentation so you can follow along.

  • Use a readable font. Although experts debate the best font and size to use, most presenters stick with a 24- to 30-point size, choosing serif-type fonts for text (Times Roman) and sans-serif fonts for headlines (Arial, Tahoma, Verdana). Headlines should be larger.

  • Use standard fonts and consider your audience. Children may respond to fonts that are untraditional, while doctors most likely prefer something simple. Avoid script-type fonts.
  • Consistently use the same font and sizes on all slides, and make your colors consistent throughout the presentation. Avoid all caps.
  • Use your company logo and headers if your company or firm asked you to include these on all of your slides, but try not to overload the slides with too many extraneous elements.
  • An Internet search will bring up many so-called “rules.” One good one we found was the 666 Rule for simplicity in design: No more than six words per bullet, six bullets per image, and six word slides in a row.

Bells & Whistles
While you may think the only way to suffer through a presentation is watch a PowerPoint that literally “moves” from screen to screen—creating what seems to be high-tech computer animation—did you forget about what the speaker had to say?

Many presenters stuff their presentations full of bells and whistles, only to find that their audience is anticipating the next slide more than the next point he or she wanted to make. Don’t fall into this trap! Animation is fun to use in PowerPoint, but you need to be judicious about how often you animate your words, images, and slide transitions.

  • Minimize slide transitions by sticking with one kind of transition from slide to slide. Keep this simple; choose a transition effect that keeps to the tone of your presentation. For example, if you are using humor in your slides, then you might consider choosing something more elaborate than a simple dissolve.

  • Avoid too much animation per slide. It’s fun to spin words and make photos wobble, but is this really necessary? Use animation emphasis to make a particular point, but avoid having your animation become too dominant on each slide.
  • Is sound necessary? It is when you’re playing a video, but isn’t really needed in most cases. Example: You are telling your audience about a sensitive point and have a slide of an elephant in a room for emphasis. Great, but is it necessary to incorporate the sound of an elephant blowing its trunk?  

Complementing Your Presentation
The number one mistake presenters make is when they become secondary to the PowerPoint deck. You want your presentation to serve as a complement to you; in other words, you want to use it as a means of supporting what you’re saying with the emphasis remaining on you, not your slides.

  • Don’t read your slides. Although this may seem obvious, all of us have sat through presentations that had great potential, but backfired because the presenter read his or her slides. Boring? Yes. Tedious? Of course. The best way to avoid reading your slides is to thoroughly know your presentation and rehearse several times.

  • Use keywords or one photo. The best presenters use keywords on their slides or a single photo to make their point. Remember the slide of the elephant in the room? Your audience instantly knows what kind of point you’re trying to make because you’ve chosen a photo that is visual and symbolic. A single word or short sentence can do the same thing by providing emphasis on the point rather than the words themselves.
  • Don’t hand out your presentation prior to the talk. Yes, it’s wise to hand out your presentation if your slides contain charts or hard-to-read material, but most speakers advise against doing this (again, unless your slides are complicated) because your audience will read the handouts instead of listening to you speak. Instead, offer it to your audience as they are leaving the room, ask for business cards and send the presentation to them, or post the presentation online and provide the URL for download as your final slide. Whatever method you choose, you want to make it easy for your audience to get the presentation. If a set of slides are complicated, consider handing just these pages.

One final thought. There is a great website called SlideShare that offers a social network made up of PowerPoint presentations others have agreed to share for public use. This is a very useful resource and the material certainly is up for public domain. However, if you’re going to use any material direct from a particular presentation, always offer an attribution on your slide to the original source. Why? You never know who is going to be in your audience or who is sharing your presentation after the fact. You don’t want to get a call or e-mail from someone who accuses you of plagiarism. Instead, be courteous and provide the attribution.

Great presentations aren’t created overnight, but you can help the audience grasp your key concepts if you begin applying the guidelines and suggestions in this article. As always, put yourself in the shoes of your audience; what would you want to see and are you gaining new knowledge?


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