Presentations, whether made with PowerPoint or another tool, are a great way to support a talk, visualize complicated circumstances or focus attention on the subject.
Meanwhile, a foul presentation can achieve the opposite. Poorly designed slides with walls of text or oversized blurry graphics can distract or irritate your audience. Sometimes, PowerPoint is just the wrong tool to make an impact.
Here’s is a small guide that will help you create presentations with a professional look and concise content, avoiding the most common mistakes.
The first thing that gives a professional touch to any presentation is the design. It’s the first thing your audience will see and it can leave a lasting impression, for better or worse.
1. Carefully Compose Your Slides
Don’t copy & paste slides from different sources. You don’t want your presentation to look like a rag rug. What you’re aiming for is a consistent look. This will help your audience focus on the essential; your speech and the key facts you’re highlighting on your slides.
To that end, use a basic template or make your own. PowerPoint comes with a selection of presentation templates, but you can also find free ones online.
Pick an easy to read font face. It’s hard to get this right. Unless you’re a designer, stick to a single font face and limit yourself to playing with safe colors and font sizes.
If you’re unsure about fonts, refer to The 10 Commandments of Typography shown above for orientation.
Carefully select font sizes for headers and text. On the one hand, you don’t want to create a wall of text and lose your audience’s attention. On the other, you do want your audience to be able to read the text that you consider key. So make your fonts large enough.
Leave room for highlights, such as images or take home messages. Some elements should stand out. So try not to bury them in background noise, but give them the space they need. This could be a single quote or a single image per page with nothing but a simple header and a plan background.
Decorate scarcely but well. If you have good content, you won’t need decoration. Your template will be decoratively enough.
Restrict the room your design takes up and don’t ever let the design restrict your message.
2. Use Consistency
Consistently use font face and sizes on all slides. This one goes back to using a template. If you chose a professional template, the designer will have taken care of this aspect. Stick to it!
Match colors. This is where so many presentations fail. You might have chosen a funky template and stuck to the designer’s color profile, then you ruin it all with ugly Excel charts.
Take the time to match your visuals to your presentation design.
You can use your company logo, highlight headers, create a special frame for figures or images or the whole slide, but don’t overload your slides with these elements.
A poor choice of colors can ruin a presentation.
3. Use Contrast
Black text on a white background will always be the best, but also the most boring choice. You’re allowed to use colors! But use them responsibly.
Keep it easy on the eyes and always keep good contrast in mind. If you’re color-challenged, use one of the many online tools to select a good looking color palette. Or just use a template.
4. Apply Brilliance
Carefully use color to highlight your message! Colors are your friends. They can make numbers stand out or your Take Home Message pop.
Don’t weaken the color effect by using too many colors in too many instances. The special effect only works, however, if used scarcely. Try to limit pop colors to one per slide.
Make a brilliant choice: match colors for design and good contrast to highlight your message.Use a professional color palette, to find which color will work best with your theme.
Use The 10 Commandments of Color Theory shown above to learn more about colors.
Keep It Straight and Simple. That means…
Keywords only on your slides.
Absolutely no full sentences!
And never read your slides, talk freely.
Remember that your slides are only there to support, not to replace your talk! You want to tell a story, describe your data or explain circumstances, and only give keys through your slides. If you read your slides and if you do it poorly, the audience will feel ashamed for you. Worse, they’ll stop listening and dive into their smartphones instead.
6. Take Home Message
Always summarize your key point in a Take Home Message. Ask yourself, if your audience should learn or remember one single thing from your presentation, what would it be? That’s your Take Home Message.
The Take Home Message is your key message, a summary of your data or story. If you’re giving an hour long presentation, you might actually have several Take Home Messages. That’s OK. Just make sure that what you think is key, really matters to your audience.
Make your Take Home Message memorable. It’s your responsibility that your audience takes home something valuable. Help them “get it” by making your Take Home Message stand out, either visually or through how you frame it verbally.
Images are key elements of every presentation. Your audience has ears and eyes, they want to see what you’re talking about, and a good visual cue will help them understand your message much better.
7. Add Images
Have more images in your slides than text. Visuals are your friends. They can illustrate your points and support your message.
But do not use images to decorate! That’s a poor use of visuals because it’s just a distraction.
Images can reinforce or complement your message. So use images to visualize or explain your story.
Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In other words, if you don’t have time for a thousand words, use a picture!
Animations & Media
In animations, there is a fine line between a comic and a professional impression. But animations can be powerful tools to visualize and explain complicated matters. A good animation can not only improve understanding, it can also make the message stick with your audience.
8. Don’t Be Silly
Sparingly use animations and media. You should really only use them in one of two cases:
- To draw attention, for example to your Take Home Message.
Or to clarify a model or emphasize and effect.
Embed the media in your presentation and make sure it works in presentation mode, else you’ll look foolish.
Target & Content
Your target, i.e. your audience, defines the content of your presentation. For example, you cannot teach school kids about the complicated matters of economy, but you may be able to explain to them what economy is in the first place and why it is important.
9. Keep Your Audience In Mind
When you compile your presentation, ask yourself these questions:
- What does my audience know?
- What do I need to tell them?
- What do they expect?
- What will be interesting to them?
- What can I teach them?
- What will keep them focused?
Answer these questions and boil your slides down to the very essentials. In your talk, describe the essentials colorfully and use your weapons, i.e. text, images, and animations wisely (see above).
If you fail to hit the target, it won’t matter how ingenious your design is or how brilliantly you picked colors and keywords. If you lose the attention of your audience, everything is lost.
A well practiced and enthusiastic talk will help you convince your audience and keep their attention. Here are some key points that define a good talk:
- Know your slides inside out.
- Speak freely.
- Speak with confidence – loud and clear.
- Don’t speak too fast.
- Keep eye contact with your audience.
One Final Trick
I’ve shown you how to think through your entire presentation, from choosing a design to speaking to your audience. Here’s a mind trick: never try to interpret the looks on your listeners’ faces. Just assume they’re focused and taking notes.
You’ve done your best to bring them a great presentation and your audience wants to learn from you. The looks on their faces aren’t doubt or confusion. It’s focus! Well, d’oh! Obviously, you’re the expert and they’re the learners. If you can get into this mindset, you can relax and perform at your best.
For more support, look into these presentation resources.
What are your tips for a killer presentation? Let’s hear in the comments! And if this article helped you, please share it with your friends!