Top 10 Rules for PowerPoint

PowerPoint slides

OK, PowerPoint is cool. You can add strange sounds, video, odd text shapes, weird slide transitions, squiggly paths for text entrance, and many, many other unusual effects to your presentations. If you don’t believe me, just look at the presentations your 3rd grade child is creating in school.

But we are adults, presenting to adult audiences. No one is more impressed than you at the oddities you threw into your slide deck. Frankly, only you are impressed by your PPT talents. The rest of us get dizzy and distracted, and lose the point you are trying to make.

On the flip side, plain text on a plain background will put your viewers to sleep. I promise you that.

So where is the balance? Yes, there is one, and it starts with 10 simple rules to follow:  Here they are:

  1. Keep your slide deck to a minimum number of slides. The average slide should take up 2-3 minutes of a presentation. Clicking through slides faster loses the value; and moving too slowly will bore your audience to death. If you have 30 minutes, select 10-15 high impact slides.
  2. Organize. You know what point you are trying to make. Your audience may not. So create a simple agenda slide letting them know why they are in the room (because they might be in the wrong room). And break longer presentations into clear sections with title slides introducing each section.
  3. Contrast please. Even if you are displaying your beauty on the best projector screen (if you are lucky), there MUST BE significant contrast between the background and text. Your choice – dark on light or light on dark – but choose one. Do not depend on your computer monitor to judge the contrast. If they can’t read, then their minds will wander. Trust me. Gold letters on a dark blue background always looks professional, but other combinations can work as well.
  4. Plain solid background vs. a picture or busy graphic background? What do you think? If your text and charts get lost in the background, say goodnight. Simple graphics like those in PowerPoint’s templates generally are fine, or a nice gradient image (i.e., dark blue fading to light blue) works well.
  5. Sound. No! Did I say No? I am not talking about playing recordings that are relevant to your presentation; I am talking about those stupid gunshots and breaking glass effects. OK, if you want one AND ONE ONLY to create impact and wake up the audience, then be my guest.  Now you are getting the “point”!
  6. Clipart. Use sparingly and wisely. PowerPoint has some cute art that can add a little humor to your deck, and humor can be a good thing in a dry presentation. Let’s be honest. No one cares more about your topic than you, so you need to add a little spice to keep them interested. I did say a little, right?
  7. Moving text and images. You know what I mean? Pictures that slide in from the top and text that floats into view by spinning around and around. Take a tip from #5. Use sparingly ONLY to make a point. If there is no important point to make, then dump the silly effects. Leave them to your kids.
  8. Boring text. Firstly (is that a word?), a slide deck made up primarily of plain text boxes will send them off into never-never land. If your slides look like a Word document, you are hosed. One or two lines are fine, when you need to inject detail into your presentation, but that is it. Secondly, the cardinal sin is placing text that is so small it cannot be read by the person in the last row. Remember, unless the audience is viewing the presentation from their computer, your text must be large enough to read several feet back from the screen.
  9. Don’t read the slides word for word. We can read. We don’t need you to read for us. Tell us something we don’t know and use your slides as a backdrop to your speech.
  10. Remember, less is more. You heard that one before, but with PowerPoint nothing could be truer.

Follow these 10 rules and your boss will love you. You might even get that elusive promotion. You are a professional. Show it in your presentations!