Updated August 9, 2023
We will begin this with a fantasy- The big boss has summoned you to post your lunch break, and you wait to attack the next challenge he throws at you. Brace yourself there, an eager beaver, coz your boss beams at you and says, “Hello, ABC, you did exceedingly well at the in-house team meeting today. I want you to handle the team presentation at the next quarterly meeting. And feel free to use Powerpoint while you’re at it. I want to see the first draft next week. I know you’re ready for it. Good luck!”
You pat yourself and silently yell, “YESSSS!” You’re going to rock it! It’s your big chance to get noticed by superiors beyond your team.
Err, let’s get back to reality!
Many people get it wrong with their presentations, especially when using PowerPoint. It’s almost as if they get lazy or complacent and expect the tool to do all their work. Hah!
Make no mistake; Microsoft PowerPoint is an enormously versatile tool. But perhaps its greatest strength is to do what you allow it to do and skip what you don’t. It’s up to you to use the power in your hands to make your presentations sharp and effective. But do not fret. With the simple tips outlined here, you’ll know what to tweak within your presentation and with PowerPoint, so you come out as a winner!
4 Tips for Making Effective Microsoft PowerPoint Presentations
1. Keep the Focus on your Message
It’s amazing how many people begin preparing their presentations with a mad scramble within PowerPoint. Don’t! Always remember that you and the message you want to convey are important, not your expertise with the tool. To create a solid outline of your fine Powerpoint presentation on paper, pour all your creative, analytical, and marketing skills into it. Once you’re clear on the message you want to convey to your audience, PowerPoint can help you tweak the rest.
How PowerPoint can help you:
Create your first draft on paper. How many slides do you roughly see? At the least, you should have the following:
- An intro (to yourself and the topic).
- Slides that communicate the main message.
- Section headers/breaks are introduced no later than every 6-7 message slides to retain the audience’s attention.
- A couple of slides with media elements like pictures, graphs, or audio/video to break the monotony.
- A slide for questions (optional).
- Closing slide, re-iterating the final call to action.
Once you have the big picture in place, lay out the second draft in PowerPoint by creating a blank presentation (File->New->Blank presentation + Create button), and dive straight into the Slide-sorter view (View->Slide Sorter). This is a fairly simple view listing out thumbnails of all slides. Use this to create the number of slides you want as follows.
- Right-click anywhere in this view and select New Slide. This will create a new slide with the default layout. OR,
- Copy-paste the (pre-designed) slide several times to replicate its layout.
For each slide, set its “layout” (Home->Layout) as per your paper design. This decides the overall composition of the slide – the number of elements/sections within the slide, the placement of each element, a title if required, etc. PowerPoint comes with at least 9 in-built layouts to suit most needs. Popular layouts include a Title (for a dramatic opening slide), Title and Content (for subsequent slides), and Section Header (for section breaks within your PowerPoint presentation).
You can relax knowing that you can easily alter any of the above attributes anytime. But by outlining this rough draft quickly (the above steps should take you less than 5 minutes), you spend minimum time effectively maximizing your use of the PowerPoint tool! Your presentation is now ready for real content.
2. Keep it Visually Clean
This means your PowerPoint presentation is easy on the eye, so your audience does not develop sore eyes or feel compelled to turn away mid-way through your remarkable presentation. Do note the following when you fill your slides with content.
How PowerPoint can help you:
- Use a consistent background design on all your slides for a smooth visual flow. PowerPoint facilitates this through Design->Themes. Without a theme, you would manually edit each slide’s design elements. But an article is a “design template” with predefined settings for background color/ shapes/ graphics, layout, font set (for the title, body text, header, etc.), effects, and background styles. Once you select a theme on any slide, it impacts all slides. This includes any customizations you make to the original theme.
- Choose a good font size for all your text. When standing at the front of the podium, a slide may look good and clear to you. But when you’re seated at the back, not so much. So test your font size from a distance (like using a 2cm font size for 10 feet distance, a 4cm font size for 20 feet distance, and so on). Another recommendation is to use Sans Serif (non-loopy) fonts like Arial, Geneva, or Helvetica over Serif fonts like Times New Roman or Courier. This reduces the blur, so your text remains legible even at a distance.
- Use Bullet Points wisely. Some swear by them, and some prefer to throw them. If you use them, studiously avoid text wrapping with sentences spawning multiple lines. This is less appealing and more confusing. Instead, keep your sentences short and simple so the message comes across with no unnecessary frills.
- “Create a PowerPoint Presentation that is visually appealing to the audience, using a balanced mix of design and media elements”.
This can be shortened to –
- “Create PPT with a visual appeal”.
Note: When you keep your slide content deliberately brief, you cannot depend on your bulleted slides to present themselves complacently. But this is good news. A PowerPoint presentation that can run independently without your participation asks for presentation suicide! Instead, consciously prepare your slide content so you are required to proactively participate during the presentation delivery and clarify the finer details to your audience. YOU drive the show, not PowerPoint.
Let your graphics speak more than a thousand words – which means they’re mighty effective in packing a punch! The truth about graphics is that we all love them: pictures, clipart, graphs, charts, and their lot. They instantly make your PowerPoint presentation more attractive and less boring. But if you add them in excess, you risk overwhelming your audience or underselling your (message) content. So choose the right balance by using fewer but more meaningful graphics.
Keep your graphs and charts clean. Yes, there’s that word again, clean. You can practice this as follows:
- Use layman-friendly labels to explain your graph/chart’s elements. Avoid using numbers, special characters, and technical jargon; it already takes more brainpower to understand a graph or a chart than a picture.
- Add additional text to capture the highlights of the graph/chart explicitly so this is obvious to the audience. For instance, if you’re presenting a sales graph across regions, you may want to add text highlighting the top/bottom region and comparison with last year. These figures may be implicitly captured in the chart, but by adding text labels highlighting this info, you ensure that the audience notices and remembers this important info.
Note: Complex-analytical charts may make you look more intelligent, but it leaves your audience feeling foolish and reduces the effectiveness of your PowerPoint presentation. Instead, keep your graphs and charts fairly simple so they don’t need a Statistics Ph.D. to decode them. Recent PowerPoint versions come pre-loaded with at least eleven chart types (like a bar chart, column chart, pie chart, etc.) that can be easily included in your presentation with just a few mouse clicks and data insertions. If you’re using over 5 minutes inserting a chart into your PowerPoint presentation, consider it complicated and not worth your audience’s attention.
Use high-contrast colors to attract extra attention. With Themes, PowerPoint already ensures that the slide’s background colors adequately contrast with text/line colors for maximum visibility (like using dark color text over light backgrounds or vice versa). But in your PowerPoint presentation, you may have that 1-2 slides that deserve extra attention, so you want to highlight them differently. High-contrast colors allow you to do this easily (Like Green/Yellow, Blue/Red, Black/White, etc.). But use this judiciously, as too many color contrasts can leave your audience a headache!
3. Tighten your PowerPoint Presentation
Okay, then, you’ve laid out your slides and filled them with relevant content. Enhancing their visual appeal, you’ve also ensured audience attention stays riveted on your meaningful slides. You’re all set to deliver your fabulous PowerPoint presentation. Or perhaps not just yet.
One fool-proof tip that guarantees better quality PowerPoint presentations every time is to “tighten” your PowerPoint presentation, where every single slide delivers a whopping punch.
- Can you reduce the content in your slides? Make bullet points shorter and text smarter.
- Can you reduce the total number of slides? Or replace a slide or two with a compelling graphic?
- Can you simplify the animations or transitions (available via Animations & Transitions tabs) used after every slide so that the presentation flows without too many distractions? (Sometimes, the audience’s attention is diverted to these transitions than the actual slide content!)
- If you’re using external (online props) like videos from other sites to be played during the presentation, can you include them for a smoother flow? Here, you can explore LiveWeb, an integration tool that plugs external web videos into a presentation on your hard drive.
- Finally, bless your presentation with a unique brand – YOU. What trademark stamp will classify this presentation as yours? Bright colors? Straightforward but sharp content? Spiffy audio-visuals? Mark your presentation with your brand presence!
4. Tighten your Delivery
It’s the big day, and with the above tips, you are poised to awe with your fabulous presentation. Well, almost. There are a few tiny tips you have to put to practice right at the last minute. Here they are:
- Respect time. No matter how fantastic your presentation preparation is, you’ll turn off your audience if you’re tawdry with time. Manage your time wisely. Start, break, and end on the dot of the clock.
- Do a dress rehearsal before you present to your live audience. This means you do a dummy run of your presentation in the actual room where you will deliver it. This empowers you to quickly catch potential glitches (like changes in the projector’s resolution, color mismatches, disk failures, etc.) before the final delivery.
- If you’re presenting from your laptop, turn off your screen saver. The last thing you need is to have that blazing fire screensaver burn your presentation mid-way!
How PowerPoint can help you:
If you’re connecting to a projector,
- Arm yourself with a pointer. It’s more fancy than walking up to the screen to point your text with your finger. And less distracting!
- Make use of PowerPoint’s “Presenter View”. This allows you to spawn your presentation across 2 views:
- Audience’s View, which plays on the projector screen. This will show only the main presentation slides.
- Your view, which plays on your laptop/computer screen. This will show the details, including your notes, the slide sorter list (to jump across multiple slides quickly), and the main slide.
- You can enable Presenter’s View by checking the “SlideShow->Use Presenter View” button (available in versions 2010 and above).
Finally, do you know the biggest goof-up amateur presenters make? They present to the wall, or the projector screen, or the podium tabletop, or their shoes… you get the drift! Look your audience boldly in the eye and confidently present your content to them. Engage them throughout the presentation with questions, jokes, stories, personal anecdotes, etc. These may not be part of your deck, but they will invite the audience to respond to your charisma and participate more in the presentation. Only then do you successfully deliver an enormously effective presentation, with or without PowerPoint? Now you’re truly going to rock it!