10 Tips for More Effective PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint presentations should contain no more than 10 slides to be effective.
Screenshot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Look at the presentation screen, look at the slow-ticking clock on the wall, look at the presentation screen, look at the beckoning cell phone — resist the temptation to put it on mute and play Angry Birds until the agony of this creeping corporate gathering ends.

We've all been there: the never-ending staff meeting. What started out as a potentially interesting presentation about a new startup or upcoming company initiative has turned into "death by PowerPoint." When the presenter finally stops rattling along and the lights turn back on, all you can remember is that you almost fell asleep — and you sheepishly wonder if anyone noticed.


Without further ado, here are 10 helpful tips for making the most out of a PowerPoint presentation so your audience doesn't sleepwalk out of your next meeting.

10: Train Before Trying

Like most responsibilities required to successfully navigate an office environment, making an effective PowerPoint presentation is an acquired skill. It's also one that's commonly overlooked during training, whether that learning effort is completed independently or in the work setting. It's important to make sure you fully grasp the dos and don'ts necessary to deliver a good PowerPoint presentation before you step in front of a room filled with a hushed and expectant audience; otherwise, whatever important information you have to relay will likely be totally lost on your listeners.

And what's more, in most professional settings, no one is likely to approach the presenter after an awful PowerPoint presentation to let him or her know just how terrible it was and give pointers. A listless round of applause followed by stifled yawns and runs for the coffee machine could be the only clues our poor meeting chair receives that something could be amiss in his or her staging style.


So what's the first pitfall to avoid on the way to a great PowerPoint speech? Find out on the next page.

9: Presentation First, PowerPoint Second

The biggest mistake people often make when creating a PowerPoint presentation is that they make the slides the focus. Many of you are probably still haunted by high school teachers and college professors who ponderously read almost exactly what was being shown on the screen — whether by an old school projector or on a newer digital medium — without any elaboration or additional scholarly flourishes. How dull and repetitive.

Attention should be on the presenter and on the compelling story that he or she has to tell. PowerPoint is effective at providing supplementary information, like simple, colorful graphs or other relevant imagery, but should never be the main source of information. The worst thing a presenter can do is to turn around and read from the PowerPoint. If all of the information is already on the screen, then there's no need for the person speaking to ramble on about it [source: Price].


With this fundamental factor in mind, let's start delving into the development of a successful PowerPoint presentation.

8: Know Your Audience

If your audience looks like this, there is something seriously amiss with your PowerPoint skills.

As you begin preparing a PowerPoint presentation, consider whom you'll be addressing. A classroom crammed with novice students? A somber boardroom composed of barely attentive commissioners? A meeting room packed with veteran colleagues? A potential new boss you're trying to impress?

You'll want to tailor your message and your presentation format based on a number of factors, like the current knowledge level your audience possesses on the topic and how much it engages them. If they grasp quite a bit and (better) are already excited to hear what you have to say, then you can delve into more detail. On the flip side, if they know nothing about the topic you're about to present or (worse) hold doubts they'll be persuaded by your talk, you'll want to make sure your PowerPoint is especially straightforward and simple. In the latter case especially, really focus on letting your words do the explaining, in particular when it comes to persuading them on any complex ideas you need to convey.


7: Tell a Story

The goal of any presentation is to sell the audience on an idea. It could be a pitch for investing in a new company, a plan for reorganizing a business or a proposal for a scientific research project. For the audience to understand the presentation intellectually as well as emotionally, it needs to be told as a cohesive narrative — a story. The audience needs to know three things:

  1. Where we are now
  2. Where we want to end up
  3. How we're going to get there

Slides should communicate those three simple ideas backed by simple text statements, strong images and graphs. But in most cases, try not to get too heavy on the text aspect — let the story you're telling play off the slides, and keep in mind, as we'll learn on the next page, seeing is believing.


6: Show It, Don't Write It

Human beings are highly visual learners. It's much easier for our brains to remember a strong, unique image than a series of facts and figures. PowerPoint is a great, easy-to-use program for creating dozens of different types of graphs and charts. Remember that the simpler and bigger the graph, the better. For example, if you want to drive home the point that Windows PCs control a large majority of the home computer market, show a pie chart with a huge chunk of the pie filled in with red and the word "PC." No matter how many stats you quote, this image will get the message home faster and will stick with the audience longer.

In fact, the purely visual portion of your PowerPoint presentation will be chiefly responsible for about 55 percent of the impact you have on your audience, compared with 38 percent in regards to the things you say, and 7 percent of the text you quote on each slide [source: Price].


5: Embrace Color — Carefully

Color psychology is an interesting field, and one that you can draw on to make a successful PowerPoint presentation. You want to use meaningful and memorable colors, but you don't want to get too busy or flashy. PowerPoint is an extremely versatile program, but that doesn't mean you need to exploit every gimmick and design trick available.

Rather, look for ways color combinations can assist you in delivering both the contextual detail and the emotional impact in each slide you craft, so they support your message succinctly, clearly and intuitively. A vivid contrast or a soothing balance might be called for to help make your points. By using complementary colors (those opposite on the color wheel) and analogous colors (those adjacent on the color wheel) you can affect how your audience perceives your message. Also, let colors work for you. Green is commonly associated with both action (such as at a stoplight) and wealth (the old greenback) so you might want to employ it strategically if you're hoping to convey these sentiments.


On the next page, we'll take a closer look at one Internet guru's seminal style when it comes to this Microsoft application.

4: Follow the Rule of 10

Guy Kawasaki — former Apple "chief evangelist," venture capitalist and professional speaking guru — has established his famous "Kawasaki Rule of Ten" in which he only uses 10 slides during a PowerPoint presentation, often in a top 10 fashion. Those slides generally consist of nothing more than a single sentence or phrase and a supporting image. All 10 give the audience powerful visual cues that reinforce the message that Kawasaki is communicating. And since audience members know that there are only going to be 10 slides, they know when the presentation is about to end.

Kawasaki suggests a steady narrative stream for these 10 slides. Starting, for example, with the problem on slide No. 1 and the solution on slide No. 2, all the way down to the timeline on No. 9 and the summarizing call to action on slide No. 10 [source: Kawasaki].


So how long does Kawasaki recommend these PowerPoint shindigs usually last? We'll tell you next.

3: Keep It Short

No one ever complained about a PowerPoint presentation being too short. The second an audience gets bored and stops paying attention, the presentation loses its effectiveness. People not only stop processing new information, in fact, but begin to resent the presenter for wasting their time. So Kawasaki, for example, thinks that an ideal PowerPoint presentation should last no longer than 20 minutes.

That leaves time for a question-and-answer portion during a 30- or 60-minute meeting and ensures you make the most of people's time. When planning the narrative that will accompany your presentation, make sure your key points are honed. You may decide to ditch less important points altogether.


2: Keep It Legible

Don't choose messy fonts. You're trying to sell an idea, not seem like you write ransom notes in your spare time.

If you must include text in your PowerPoint presentation, go for a large font. Kawasaki says it should be no smaller than 30-point font, with the caveat that if you can determine ahead of time the oldest person in the room, you can knock their age in half and use that as a font benchmark. So, say your oldest audience member is 50, you can use a 25-sized font.

These size suggestions serve a couple of purposes. For starters, you can't fit a whole lot of text on each slide, which helps ax any verbosity you may be inclined to include in written form. This means you, the presenter, are compelled to convey your own narrative while cutting down on distractions.


When it comes to PowerPoint tips, our next and last suggestion is a little off the cuff, but well worth considering.

1: Skip It Altogether

In some cases you might just be better off skipping the PowerPoint powder keg altogether. As we've pointed out, concocting a perfectly crafted and highly effective presentation using PowerPoint as a visual tool is rife with challenges, so you might be better off just avoiding the terrain entirely [source: Kawasaki].

Instead, you can give your presentation and disseminate visual logistics and further details before or after you speak, so your audience can enjoy the benefit of viewing more details in regards to your plan of action, without distracting from you, the presenter.

For lots more information on PowerPoint presentations and related business topics, check out the links that follow.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Choose the Right Colors for Your PowerPoint Presentation." Microsoft Office. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/powerpoint-help/choose-the-right-colors-for-your-powerpoint-presentation-HA001012072.aspx
  • Feld, Brad. "Great Board Meetings." AlwaysOn. Oct. 12, 2011. http://www.aonetwork.com/AOStory/Great-Board-Meetings
  • Galian, Joseph. "Advice on Giving a Good PowerPoint Presentation." University of Minnesota Duluth. April 2006. http://www.d.umn.edu/~jgallian/goodPPtalk.pdf
  • Kawasaki, Guy. "The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint." How to Change the World. Dec. 30, 2005. http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html#axzz1gMP8k200
  • Paradi, Dave. "When Should You Use PowerPoint?" Think Outside the Slide. http://www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com/articles/whenusepowerpoint.htm
  • "Powerpoint Design: The Good, The Pretty, and the Really, Really Ugly." The University of California. http://www.ucdc.edu/support/students/Powerpoint%20Docs/Powerpoint%20Design.pdf
  • Price, Ian. "PowerPoint with no 'Power' and little point." Business Training Direct. http://www.businesstrainingdirect.co.uk/articles_powerpoint.php
  • "What is good PowerPoint Design?" Presentation Zen. Sep. 5, 2005. http://presentationzen.blogs.com/presentationzen/2005/09/whats_good_powe.html
  • Wuorio, Jeff. "Presenting with PowerPoint: 10 dos and don'ts." Microsoft Business. http://www.microsoft.com/business/en-us/resources/technology/business-software/powerpoint-tips.aspx?fbid=DkJeuTTIKWx