Ten Secrets For Using PowerPoint Effectively

You can take many courses on how to use PowerPoint from a technical standpoint, but when it is used effectively, it can add tremendously to our presentations. Here are ten secrets based on years of experience in developing and using presentation slides that will help you move from being technically proficient to using PowerPoint effectively.

  1. Start by creating an outline
    The most important part of any presentation is the content, not the graphical appeal. That is why you should develop your presentation with the content first, before deciding on the look (colours, graphics, etc.) Create a good structure for your presentation by reflecting on the goal of the presentation (more details in this article), what your audience is thinking right now, and what points you need to make in order to move the audience from where they are to where you want them to be.  Write an outline on paper or use sticky notes so you can move ideas around (or use this online tool from Amazon). By creating an outline first, you ensure that the content of your presentation is solid before you concern yourself with the visual elements. Here are links to some articles that deal with common types of presentations: Status Update, Presenting a Recommendation, and a Sales presentation.
  2. Use Contrasting Colours
    If you want your audience to be able to see what you have on the slide, there needs to be a lot of contrast between the text colour and the background colour. I suggest a dark background with light text – I usually use a medium to dark blue background and white or yellow letters. Some prefer a light background and dark letters, which will also work well – which you choose will depend on personal preference. Don’t think that just because the text looks fine on your computer screen that it will look fine when projected. Most projectors make colours duller than they appear on a screen, and you should check how your colours look when projected to make sure there is still enough contrast.  To check that your colors have enough contrast, use the Color Contrast Calculator.
  3. Use a big enough font
    When deciding what font size to use in your presentation, make sure it is big enough so that the audience can read it.  I usually find that any font size less than 24 point is too small to be reasonably read in most presentation situations.  I would prefer to see most text at a 28 or 32 point size, with titles being 36 to 44 point size.  The only reason I would use a font less than 24 point is when adding explanatory text to a graph or diagram, where you could use a 20 point font size.  If you are given a small screen in a big room, your font will look smaller because the image will not be as big as it should be.  In this case, see if you can get a larger screen, use a wall instead of a screen to project on, move the chairs closer to the screen or remove the last few rows of chairs.  I’ve put together a chart that lists how far away the last row of your audience should be based on the size of screen, font size and visual acuity testing -use the Font Size chart here. (If you are selecting colors and fonts to design a PowerPoint template, you will want to get the book Building PowerPoint Templates Step by step with the experts. Read more and order here.)
  4. Stop the moving text
    When text comes on the screen, we want the audience to read the text, then focus back on the presenter to hear the message. If the text moves onto the screen in any way – such as flying in, spiral or zooming – it makes it harder for the audience members to read since they have to wait until the text has stopped before they can read it. This makes the presenter wait longer between each point and makes the audience members focus more on the movement than on what is being said. I suggest the use of the “Appear” effect, which just makes the text appear and is the easiest for the audience to read. This article explains how proper use of builds helps focus the audience.
  5. Turn the pointer off
    During a presentation, it is very annoying to have the pointer (the little arrow) come on the screen while the presenter is speaking. It causes movement on the screen and draws the audience attention from the presenter to the screen. The pointer comes on when the mouse is moved during the presentation. To prevent this from happening, after the Slide Show view has started, press the Ctrl-H key combination. This prevents mouse movement from showing the pointer. If you need to bring the pointer on screen after this, press the A key. If the pointer does appear during your presentation, resist the urge to press the Escape key – if you do, it will stop the presentation and drop you back into the program. Press the A key or Ctrl-H to make the pointer disappear.
  6. Use visuals instead of text slides
    Every two years I ask audiences what annoys them about bad PowerPoint presentations.  The latest survey confirms that audiences are more fed up than ever with the overload of text on slides (see the latest survey results here).  Instead of using slides that only contain text, use visuals such as graphs, diagrams, photos and media clips to engage the audience.  I’ve developed a method for creating persuasive visuals in my book Present It So They Get It. Looking for professional photos that don’t cost a lot? Check out istockphoto.com, where I go for great looking photos at reasonable prices. Do you use Excel data in PowerPoint? If so, check out this special collection of articles and resources on Using Excel Data in a PowerPoint Presentation.
  7. Have Slides at the End of Your Presentation
    The last slide you speak to should not be the last slide in your presentation file. You should have three identical copies of your last speaking slide so that if you accidentally advance one too many times at the end of your presentation, your audience never knows because you don’t drop into the program, the slide looks like it has not changed. After these slides, you should include some slides that answer questions that you expect to be asked. These slides will be useful during Q&A sessions after the presentation. The final slide should be a blank slide so that if you go through all the other slides, you have a final backup from dropping into the program.
  8. Be able to Jump to Any Slide
    PowerPoint has a feature that allows you to be able to move quickly and seamlessly to any slide in your presentation. To do so, you need to know the slide numbers. The easiest way to print a list of the slide numbers and associated slide titles is to go to the Outline View and collapse the details for each slide (there is a button on the left side of the screen in this view that will do this). Then print the view. To jump to any slide, just enter the slide number on the keyboard and press the Enter key. This will move you directly to that slide. This technique is very useful for moving to a prepared Q&A slide or for skipping parts of your presentation if time becomes an issue.
  9. Blank the screen
    Sometimes we want the image on the screen to disappear so that the audience is focused solely on the presenter. There are two ways to do this. The first is if you want to blank the screen with a black image, similar to shutting the projector off (we used to do this all the time with overhead projectors by just shutting the projector off). Just press the period key (.) on the keyboard and the image is replaced with a black image. Press the period key again and the image is restored. This article explains three uses for a black slide that blanks the screen.
  10. Draw on the screen during a presentation
    Sometimes it can be valuable to be able to draw on the screen during your presentation to illustrate a particular point or item. This can be done in the following way. Press the Ctrl-P key combination to display a pen on the screen. Then, using the left mouse button, draw on the slide as you wish. To erase what you have drawn, press the E key. To hide the pen, press the A key or the Ctrl-H key combination.

When you employ these secrets to use PowerPoint effectively, you will greatly enhance your audience’s understanding of your message and help to make your presentation the best it can be.

One of the most common requests from presenters looking to deliver more effective presentations is how to create a presentation the audience will understand and act on.  My book “Present It So They Get It” shows you a six-step method for planning your presentation and six steps for creating persuasive visuals.  Learn more and get your copy of Present It So They Get It.

If you create and deliver sales presentations, check out my Kindle ebook “20 Tips for Effective Sales Presentations with PowerPoint“. If you create and deliver financial presentations, check out my Kindle ebook “20 Tips for Effective Financial Presentations with PowerPoint” and this slideshare presentation.

Are you looking for a customized workshop where your staff can learn the exact techniques to communicate more effectively using persuasive PowerPoint presentations?  Here’s what Vic Klassen, a Sales executive said about the sessions I’ve done for his team, “Dave helped give my sales team a new perspective on how to deliver effective business presentations. He is a true expert in the field and is a very strong communicator.”  Click here to learn more about my workshops.

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