Top 5 Ways to Improve Your PowerPoint Presentation

The words “PowerPoint” and “presentation” have become almost synonymous in the business world. The software is packed with mini-tools designed to grab the audience’s attention and drive home your message. Used correctly, these tools can be a powerful message enhancer. Go overboard, and it’s just a mess. Here are the top five ways to improve your PowerPoint presentation by doing less with more.

1. Don’t create eye charts. The goal of your presentation should not be to test your audience’s eyesight – yet that is a common issue in PowerPoint presentations. Five to six top-level bullet points, plus a header, is plenty for one slide. If you are including illustrations, think three to four bullets. Better to have multiple slides covering the same topic than to have a slide no one in the audience can read. Speaking of which…

2. Let the audience listen. Another common mistake is to use a script to build the slide. Your audience will naturally read whatever is on screen – which means they are not paying attention to you. Pull out the very high-level points you will be touching on for the slide, and leave the details in your script. You want the audience to focus on you, not your slides. 

3. Limit fancy transitions. We’ve all seen the fancy dissolves, flying sentences and spinning text functionality of PowerPoint. Animating the text is a fun way to break up the monotony of writing a presentation, and it can be effective – for the right audience. It can also slow your presentation down, throwing your slides out of sync with your speech. Worse, it distracts the audience. Use the regular slide transition for presentations unless you have something really big to reveal, preferably at the end of your presentation. 

4. Follow a set style guide. Major corporations typically have a style guide, including approved background(s), font style, point size and capitalization rules for presentations. Check with your admin or manager – odds are they will know if such a thing exists. If not, create one for yourself. You will need:

  • A neutral slide background. There are a number of standard professional backgrounds available in PowerPoint. If you have a group or corporate “style,” ask if you can hire (or borrow) a design resource to create a template for you.
  • A readable font. Choose a professional, readable font. Good starter fonts include Arial, Calibri, Verdana, and Times New Roman. (Note: this holds true whether you are creating a work presentation or one for the PTA. Papyrus is never a good choice for presentations.)
  • A set of point sizes. “Point” refers to how large your text appears. You should have a set point size for headers, another for top-level bullets, and a third for secondary bullets. They should be reasonably close in size. For example:
    • Header: 24 point Calibri
    • Top-level bullet: 20 point Calibri
    • Second-level bullet: 18 point Calibri

Keep your style guide close by as you create your PowerPoint. You’ll also need it when you’re done so you can…

5. Check your work – and check it again. Proper spelling, good grammar, a consistent flow and consistent style will lend a professional air to your presentation. Don’t assume you got everything right the first time – everyone makes mistakes, especially when developing long PowerPoint presentations. After you have finished your draft, set it aside for a few hours to clear your head. Then go back and review. Ideally, you should do a pass to review for each specific issue. Realistically, you will review once. So do so carefully, and if possible, ask a friend or colleague to take a look as well. A second pair of eyes is always helpful.

 Here’s what to watch for while you review:

  • Proper spelling: Spell Check will catch a lot, but not everything. Keep an eye out for words that are misspelled, AND words that are spelled correctly… but not the word you wanted use.
  • Good grammar: Same rule: use Grammar Check as a tool, but don’t rely on it.
  • Consistent flow: Don’t jump around topics – finish thoughts and move on. Also, ensure that any fact or comment you reference (“As you saw on a previous slide…) is paid off earlier. In other words, make sure it actually appeared on a previous slide.
  • Consistent style: This includes the point/font/template styles mentioned earlier, but also encompasses capitalization (initial caps or sentence caps?), bullet style (square, round, diamond, etc.), font color, and any other visual queue you will use in your presentation.

Follow these five simple rules and your presentation slides will keep the focus where it belongs during your next presentation: on you.

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