With 30 million PowerPoint presentations given every day, how do you make yours stand out from the crowd? Well, the good news is that many of those 30 million presentations make basic errors like having clashing colors and cheesy clip-art, or cramming dull slides full of jargon-filled text. With these 7 simple steps, you can make your presentation look more professional, ensuring that you engage your audience and clearly communicate your message.
1. Create your own template
Microsoft provides you with dozens of pre-designed templates, but why use something generic? A presentation is your opportunity to say who you are. By all means use one of the standard PowerPoint templates as a starting point, but then make it your own.
Add your logo and imagery, and choose a color scheme that suits you. For example, dark blue has a calming effect and communicates maturity and reliability, whereas red or orange are more exciting and energetic. Decide what impact you want to have, and make sure the template you choose reflects that. Be sure to make all your template changes on the master slide (View/Master/Slide Master) so that they appear on all slides in your presentation. The Infinite Skills PowerPoint course can help you create a strong template.
2. Take advantage of placeholders and layouts
A common mistake with PowerPoint is to add content simply by creating text boxes and shapes on a blank slide and moving them around by eye. But did you know that PowerPoint makes it easier for you by including pre-designed layouts?
Instead of just clicking “New Slide”, click the down arrow and choose from the menu of layouts. You’ll see placeholders appear on your slide, and you can click on them to add text, tables, charts, pictures or movies – all sized and aligned correctly.
If things get moved around, you can always use the “Reset Layout” button to put everything back in order. It’s quicker and easier than doing it manually, and will give you a more professional-looking end product. For more on using layouts and placeholders, check out this Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 course.
3. One message per slide
People have limited attention spans, so make it easy for them by letting them see your key message at a glance. Each slide should have one short sentence or phrase that stands out. Try creating a particular space for it in your template: along the top, for example, or in a space on the left-hand side. It must be big, bold, and have white space around it.
Writing a message for each slide also helps you be clear about your overall story. You should be able to read the messages for each slide from start to finish, and get a logical summary of what you’re trying to communicate. That way, even if someone only pays attention to that one sentence per slide, they’ll still walk away from the presentation with a grasp of your main points.
4. Go easy on the special effects
PowerPoint adds new features with every version, and it’s easy to make your presentation look like an arcade game if you use all the flashy animations, shadows and 3D effects in the toolbox. Remember that special effects are best used sparingly. The goal is to have your audience focus on your message, not on the glitzy effects.
If you want to have a strong visual impact, forget about having your text flying around on the slide. Instead, go for simple, bold shapes, clever use of white space, arresting images and graphics, and strong contrasting colors. For more help, see the PowerPoint Psychology course.
5. Obsess over the details
Does it really matter if one text box starts a fraction of an inch higher on the page than the one next to it? Yes, it does. Precise alignment is pleasing to the eye, even if people aren’t consciously aware of it. It makes your slides look clean and professional, whereas even tiny errors of alignment can make your slides seem sloppy. So be obsessive about lining everything up just right.
Again, PowerPoint makes it easy for you, with the alignment and distribution tools on the Home tab. As well as lining everything up on the slide, make sure that the slide heading comes in exactly the same position on every slide, and that the margins around the edge of each slide are consistent. That way your transitions from slide to slide will be smooth.
6. No more than two fonts
Sans serif fonts are easiest to read on screen, so make a good choice for your body text. Arial is easy but dull, so why not go for something like Optima or Myriad – simple and easy to read, but a little more distinctive than plain old Arial. For your headlines, you can either use the same font or go for something more creative. But try not to go beyond two fonts, or your presentation can look disjointed. And of course, keep the text as large as possible, especially for big audiences: 24pt font is usually the minimum that will be readable from a distance.
7. If in doubt, cut it out
Successful presentations are defined as much by what they leave out as by what they include. It’s important to leave out a lot of the information you plan to present, for two reasons. First, it will make your slides less cluttered and so more visually appealing. And second, it will ensure that you have something to talk about. Having all your text on the slide so that you can read it out may feel reassuring, but doesn’t make for a successful presentation. Make separate, detailed notes if you want, but keep the text on the slides to a minimum, and focus on simple, visual messages. When done right, PowerPoint supports you in delivering your message. It’s not the message in itself.
Want more PowerPoint tips and tricks to help you give the best possible presentation? Here are two great resources: