10 PowerPoint Best Practices for Creating Better Presentations

Microsoft PowerPoint is the most relied upon software for making presentations. There are other applications, but PowerPoint is by far the most commonly used. Microsoft estimates that there are 500 million users worldwide, with an estimated 35 million presentations given each day. That means, there are 400 presentations being made every second of every day.

PowerPoint is a great tool in the right hands. Unfortunately, many users depend on the software as a crutch for giving presentations. If you rely too heavily on the template options, you risk appearing amateurish and may cause more harm than good for all the hard work. And presenting is hard work. When your efforts are well planned and professionally executed, you are more likely to accomplish the goal of your presentation.

Follow these 10 PowerPoint best practices and give great presentations:

  1. Define the goal of your presentation. Why are you doing this? How will you measure your success? Hopefully, your presentation is a communication action in support of an overall strategy for your business. Consider how your presentation can move the audience further along a path of enlightenment or discovery. Don’t depend on a printed deck to make sense of a data dump. Don’t dump. Simply distill to memorable points.
  2. Create an outline. All content-oriented projects flow more easily, in the planning and delivery of information. I suggest steering clear of the software template until you’ve finalized an outline. You are less likely to find yourself conforming to a “slide pace” before you know what you want to say. Stretch, but be yourself. Once you’ve outlined your content, you will get a sense of peaks and valleys in your talk. Figure out how to manage a natural flow with an eye (and an ear) to points of emphasis and strategic pauses.
  3. Develop content directed to audience. Gather content, pool resources and get a grip on the story. Digest the information and put it out there in your own words. Work hard at being honest as opposed to being sensational. Be well informed, but modest and credit your resources with respect. Empathize with your audience. Your presentation will resonate more if you spend time learning about who will attend. If there is time, quickly survey in advance and use specific audience statistics in your presentation. They will be more attentive if they see themselves in the story.
  4. Establish color scheme and font choice. Somewhere in your presentation is a brand. That may seem obvious, but don’t overdo it. Use the brand identity within guidelines, and try not to hit the audience over the head with corporate colors and big logos. If you can’t afford professional design assistance, modify a template to suit your brand. Don’t let the template be a crutch. Your audience will know and judge you as unimaginative. Use the hierarchy of your outline to guide you to a simple format. Execute your presentation with recognizable formatting, white space, fewer words and strong visual impact.
  5. Design for impact. Dedicate an introduction slide to establish your audience’s expectations of the presentation. If the presentation is instructional, manage a hierarchy of repetitive elements or icons to establish a form of breadcrumbs, not as a trail to backtrack, but to provide a context or reminder of the path’s progression. Engage empathy with visuals, humor and shared human reactions. Use metaphoric imagery consistently so your audience will understand the silent language you are establishing.
  6. Avoid bullets. PowerPoint templates offer four levels of bullet points. Try working with no bullet points. You can’t “tell” an audience a list, so avoid forcing an audience to read your presentation. If they are reading a list on the screen, they are not listening to you talk. Figure out another way to tell the story.
  7. Don’t animate for entertainment. Don’t decorate or entertain on the screen. Animation and transitions in PowerPoint are challenging functions that require self-control. Transitions are great for managing the flow on the screen. Always keep this in mind: Just because a function is there doesn’t mean you need to use it. Use what you need to support the presentation without gimmickry. It interrupts the flow and distracts form the story path. Manage the presentation with simplicity and your audience will appreciate the value of your content.
  8. Avoid pointing at the screen. Don’t talk to the audience and turn and point to the screen, unless you’re talking points absolutely demand it. If you ask a question of your audience and provide an image to support the answer, why do you, the presenter, need to look at the screen? It is easy to reference the screen without physically doing so. Of course, this is a suggestion. It is a guideline, not a rule. Try it and see how much better you are at presenting and how much easier the flow will be. You will appear to be in control of the show and own the information with the confidence of knowledgeable expertise.
  9. Practice. Practice. Work out timing and test the presentation with a small supportive audience or individuals. You may know the content, but an audience knows from experience that certain standards of engagement need to be there. Pacing and content revision can emerge at this point. Luckily PowerPoint is easily editable and last minute updates are doable.
  10. There are no rules. This is true and it is dangerous knowledge in the wrong hands. Personally, I don’t believe in rules. I do believe in following guidelines up to a certain point. Determining that point is where the gateway to creative endeavor, the ‘WOW’ factor, and success or failure is found.

Creating and delivering a presentation is hard work. Almost all that hard work rests outside the PowerPoint template. If there is one takeaway here it is do not let a template dictate your content or the flow of your presentation. Professional presentations are remembered for the avoidance of cliché and structure and the most effective tool in a PowerPoint presentation is YOU.

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