Effective PowerPoint Presentations

Updated 2005-11-28: Seth Godin has a great summary of Really Bad PowerPoint and how to avoid it. And the PresentationZen folks have a great comparison of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs presentation styels.

Update: David Gray, CEO of XPlane, has a fantastic summary on how to present like Steve Jobs. It’s called Presentation Zen, having style, simplicity and a personal conversation with the audience. And my advice, practice!

PowerPoint presentations can be an effective tool in communicating information. However, PowerPoint presentations can make a meeting worse if done improperly because they a one-way communication, there is no way for the viewer to make them better. Fancy graphics, lots of colour and cool animations don’t ensure that the audience will get it.

The following tips should help you to avoid people walking away thinking you’ve wasted their time.

  1. Have a clear purpose.
    Presentations need structure. They also need a purpose. To improve the effectiveness of your PowerPoint slides make sure that the content in the slides supports your purpose for the meeting or presentation. You want the audience to come away with the feeling the information presented was inline with the original point of the presentation.
  2. Plan carefully.
    You need to understand who is the audience, where are you presenting, and how does the material being presented affect them.
  3. Don’t read off the screen.
    PowerPoint presentations are not cue cards, it is a supporting tool that should be used as prompts, outlines or conversation points.
  4. Be consistent.
    Use the Slide Master and Note Master pages for setting up formatting and colors and page layouts. This will help standardize the position of elements on your slides, the colors and styles.
  5. Use contrasting colors.
    Choose colors with a high contrast, e.g., black text on a white background, or white text on a black background. Not, blue on black or yellow on white!
  6. Design for readability.
    Font sizes should range from 18 – 48 points in the presentation. Fancy fonts can be hard to read, stick to the standards (Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Tahoma, Times New Roman). Words in all capital letters are hard to read.
  7. Avoid cryptic statements and long sentences.
    Keep the number of words to a minimum, no more than 7 words per line, and 6 lines per slide. One or two word prompts are not useful as a hand out tool. The amount of text on a slide is a compromise between understanding and information overload.
  8. Use simple backgrounds.
    Simple, light colored backgrounds with dark text work best. Avoid pictures in the background if possible.
  9. Don’t over use transitions.
    Don’t over use animations and transitions. People lose track of what is being said and focus on the effects. Only use special effects to emphasize a particular point.
  10. Graphics and Animations.
    Use pictures to simplify complex concepts. Make sure a graphic supports the message and is not just decoration. Use animations to demonstrate complex relationships.

As a final step for all PowerPoint presentations make sure that you check the spelling. This is easy to forget but it will help increase the professionalism of the presentation.