Professional PowerPoint: Getting It Right

professional powerpointThe best way to support a speech or a presentation you’ve been asked to make is to use a set of slides. Regardless of the program they are created in, good presentations can focus an audience’s attention on a subject, and help them to visualize complicated subjects. Using slides however, is not without risk. A badly made presentation can do the opposite, whether it’s too much text, animation, or just a terrible design can irritate and distract an audience. Check out this course and learn what it takes to make a successful presentation, that audiences love.

Speaking of the audience, you absolutely must consider the people who will be listening to your presentation. School kids will have trouble understanding complicated financial economics, but you could explain to them what the economy is to begin with, and why it’s so important. Be sure that you sculpt the message your sending to your audience, and targeting the vocabulary and ideas accordingly. This will help you build a connection with the audience as you do it. If you’re interested to learn more, check out this course on getting extraordinary results from your presentations and meet the real needs of your audience.

The main questions to ask yourself when you’re at this step is:

  • What is it they know already
  • What it is you need to tell them
  • What are they expecting from the presentation
  • Will this topic be interesting and keep the audience focused
  • What it is you can teach the audience

If you can’t keep the attention of your audience, you’ve lost them anyway. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve spent choosing perfect design elements and keywords, images and colors. Before you even think about touching your slides, you need to consider the main reasons presentations (in general) often go off the rails. Presenters are simply out of touch with the audience. If you’re worried about this yourself, check out this recent post and find out how you can wow the people listening to you.

Once you’ve got your approach and topic sorted, the next biggest problem is simply a lack of preparation. Perhaps a presenter didn’t practice enough, or just isn’t demonstrating any passion for the subject. Your audience will only pay attention to you when you’re effectively communicating the significance of your topic. To execute this well, you need plenty of practice. By plenty, this means plenty. If you don’t take the time to do this right – even the most beautiful slides won’t help you. Your goal is to know your slides inside and out, so you can speak freely, loud and clear and with confidence during your presentation. Keep your pace at a reasonable rate (not too fast) and maintain eye contact to connect even further with your audience.

Common PowerPoint Mistakes

With the core in place, the final part is creating a professional PowerPoint presentation. There’s a ton of reasons slides can look unprofessional, in addition to a heavy use of bright colors and a heavy use of the Comic Sans font. Read on to discover how you can create presentations that have a professional look, concise content, and avoid these common errors:

  • Slides that have too much information and are lacking an overall focus
  • Losing your audience by overloading them with bullet points
  • Stacking image upon image onto each slide so no one even knows where to look on each slide

At the core of all of this is a simple fact. Your PowerPoint slides aren’t a prompter from which you to just read your presentation out to the audience. Your slides are not the place for you to dump every single piece of information imaginable on your topic. This course on presentation zen is a great way to understand this concept in greater detail. A slides only goal is to be a visual aid, supporting the most important part of the presentation – the message you are communicating.

Steps to Professionalism: Tips from the Experts

To have professional and effective slides you need:

  • Simplicity
  • A clear and meaningful message
  • Quality visuals

So how do we actually apply this? Seth Godin has a great set of rules to help you avoid bad presentations, as follows:

  1. Never, ever have more than six words on a slide. There will never be a topic so complex you need to break this rule. Don’t use bullet points, and have a separate slide for every topic and idea.
  2. Use professional stock photos, nothing cheesy or amateur.
  3. Don’t use ridiculous animations like dissolve effects, spins and other flamboyant transitions.
  4. Sound effects can be used, but never use the built in ones. Rip pieces of music from CDs and make use of the impact this has on your audience – they’re not in a typical meeting.
  5. Don’t hand out printed copies of your slides. Your slides don’t work without you there.

Another great tip from entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki is that less really is more when it comes to presentations. He recommends following the 10/20/30 rule, which states that

  • There should be a maximum of 10 slides
  • The presentation time should be limited to 20 minutes
  • Your font size should be at least 30 points

Keeping these creation principles in mind, now you can start thinking about how to improve the design and elements of each slide. Now let’s get started making you a professional PowerPoint presentation:

  1. Decide on the topic, that you can either talk about or you can research and learn (if it’s for work)
  2. Take a piece of paper and create a basic outline of your presentation
  3. Find a template that looks organized and professional and start from here
  4. You want the design to be simple, and crisp – so it doesn’t distract from your presentation.
  5. Choose a font face that is easy to read. Why don’t you download a unique font and have something just a little different than the standard Arial, or Times New Roman.
  6. The title slide is where you summarize the main purpose (or idea) of the presentation
  7. Make careful selection of your font sizes for headings and text, and keep it consistent throughout
  8. Change up your presentation as you go, using a mix of text, photographs, graphs and tables to convey your points.
  9. Remember to keep your sentences short. If you need more than 6 words (as recommended by Seth Godin), try the 5 by 5 rule. 5 bullet points with less than 5 words each.
  10. Using a company logo, highlighting the headers or having specific frames throughout your entire presentation is OK, so long as the individual slides are not overloaded with these elements.
  11. Be sparing in your use of animations. Subtle programming like slide in bullet points works really well.
  12. If you decide to use slide transitions, stick to a single one throughout the entire presentation.
  13. Go through the entire presentation at least 5 times to tweak and fix and mistakes.

Finally, don’t forget to sum up your entire presentation with a take home message. This is key, and should stand out from the rest of your presentation. This is the action or the idea you want your audience to remember, and it should be well thought out, and summarize your presentation well.

Additional Tips for Professionalism

  • Don’t have a slide dedicated to sources, simply cite them as you present their information throughout your presentation
  • Pictures don’t make a good background, but if you feel you must have it use a transparency behind your text so it’s easy to read. All you need to do is right click the text box, click on format placeholder and change the fill to a color that contrasts with your text. A 70% transparency works really well.
  • Aim to have more images than text in your slides.
  • Templates are there for a reason, so use them instead of starting from scratch. If you can’t find anything suitable in the program there are many custom designs online that are fantastic.
  • Animations should be used to emphasize a point and introduce bulleted items in a list.
  • Memorize your presentation completely, and try not to read off your slides at all. This makes it seem like your speaking to the actual people in the audience, not just speaking at the audience.
  • Make sure you save your work regularly.
  • Use bold, underline and italics to emphasize certain words or points and get listeners interested.
  • Using dynamic content like a short video helps to engage your audience even further, and can be a
  • fantastic way to illustrate a particular point.

Your ultimate goal is about using the space on your slides effectively, and only include elements that contribute to the point you are making in each slide. This will help you create slides that grab a viewer’s attention, and keep it.

A Note on Themes

Making use of themes are a great way to get started, especially if you’re new to the program. They are simple to understand, and are basically just a pre-made set of fonts, graphics and colors that can be applied to your presentation with a single click. There are themes built in with the program, and many places online you can purchase additional themes with even more design. This works fantastically when you want to roll out the same business branding across your company, as the same themes are usually available across the entire range of Microsoft products so it’s easy for you to have a common theme for an entire business.

At one point or another, every one of us will need to get up and speak in front of people. Sometimes it’s a speech at school, other times it may be a specific presentation on the details of a topic in the boardroom. PowerPoint is one of the more effective tools to aid your public speaking, but only when it’s used right. If you try to shortcut, or don’t follow this advice and create a bad presentation, this can actually hinder your message, and leave the audience wondering why they just wasted their time. You can learn a bit more in this course on delivering fantastic keynote presentations. All it really needs is for you to take the time to think through your next presentation, and focus on making it effective, with a simple and clean design that is both professional, and impresses whoever you present it to.