Creating a good PowerPoint should be as simple as walking in a straight line. You lay one slide in front of the other, stick to the narrative and before you know it you’ve reached your destination. And in theory it is that simple. So why do so many PowerPoint presentations suck, or at the very least fail to leave a positive impression? Even if we excuse the obvious failures that are laden with un-ironic clipart, bad stock photography and comic sans, it’s hard to shake the impression that great PowerPoint presentations are scarcer than the precious metals that make up your smartphone.
There’s an upshot to that state of affairs however in that the mediocrity of the majority means it won’t take much effort on your part to shine. To create the ultimate PowerPoint presentation – or a better than average effort at the very least – all you have to do is heed the following (Power) pointers…
How to create great PowerPoint presentations
Stick to the story
Stories aren’t just for bedtime. A presentation should follow a narrative arc, with an introduction that outlines the problem you’re trying to solve, a body that delves into the details and a conclusion that brings it all together and leaves a memorable take-home message. Your PowerPoint story doesn’t have to be magical or amusing or full of plot twists, but it does need to be engrossing. Through the judicious use of statistics, teasers, set-ups, revelations and reveals, it’s possible to engross an audience, whether you’re speaking to them about app development, cupcake recipes or personal finance.
Start like you mean to go on
Every sentence and slide matters, but your opening salvo is the most critical moment in your entire presentation. The first 60 seconds will determine whether you’ll be able to hold your audience’s attention for the remainder of the show or will have them fiddling with their smartphones before you’ve reached slide two. Be upbeat; be dynamic; be controversial if you like: whatever style you elect for, make sure it’s the best version of you. If you can hook your audience from the get-go, all that’s left to do is reel them in over the course of the ensuing slides.
Get the slides-to-speech ratio just right
Cram your presentation with too many slides and you’ll daze your audience with a blur of transitions that will leave little time for the key points to hit home. Scrimp on the slides and their attention will start to wander. How many slides is just right? That depends on the complexity of your presentation, but as a rule of thumb, one slide every two minutes is the figure quoted.
Keep it clean
Not your language – your design. Choose a maximum of three typefaces and favour sans serifs fonts over serifs because they’re easier to see on mobile or from the back of a lecture theatre. Legibility beats snazziness every time. Likewise, with graphics: colours should complement rather than clash and while black text is generally the best option, make sure it’s still visible against dark backgrounds.
Let your pictures do the talking
You can’t literally let your presentation do all the work – you’re still going to have to get up there and speak – but you can certainly lighten the load by choosing evocative images that will convey your message and illustrate your concepts. There are some great free image sites on the web that aren’t full of the usual clichéd poses and forced smiles and there are also some excellent resources for finding stunning images, graphics and icons. Tired looking images will detract from your presentation, whereas an inspired selection will make your job so much easier.
If your presentation looks the part and it’s been structured properly, with a strong intro, compelling body and punchy conclusion, your hard work is 90% done. Now all that’s left to do is practice, practice and practice some more, in front of the mirror, your friends and any other willing accomplices you can round up. Nail that delivery and the ultimate PowerPoint presentation will be in the bag.