Avoid Murder By PowerPoint: How To Make Your Presentations Compelling And Memorable

Aaron Couch 10-11-2012

make powerpoint presentations goodHave you ever done a PowerPoint presentation? Of course you have. If you said “no,” I’d call you a liar. Alright, that may be extreme. But most of us have, right? I’d say so. So, what’s my point? My point is that here most of us have created a PowerPoint and done a presentation (or will at some point) and yet it is likely to be one of the most poorly done things on a computer.


The presentations I saw done in college, both by students and the instructors, were embarrassing, to say the least. From ridiculously long slides by instructors to students who looked like they didn’t know how to read (which they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place). Bad PowerPoint presentations is an epidemic in education, which then continues into the workplace. Of course it’s not only about the PowerPoint itself, but also the presenter and how well they speak and convey the information. And I will touch upon that as well.

Begin With An Outline

Just like when writing a report, it is helpful to have specific points laid out. Usually this is just for you to get your thoughts down. In a PowerPoint though, it is nice for your audience to see what the presentation they’re about to sit through will go over. It connects them a little bit more and keeps them interested, especially if there was something in the timeline that intrigued them. The outline is simple and only consists of the exact things you intend to cover. Sometimes it’s ok to get a little more detailed and extend the outline to give more information about sub-topics that will be covered. This, however, depends on the thoroughness of your presentation and the requirements of the specific content that you are covering. Below is an example of an outline in a presentation I did on computer security.

make powerpoint presentations good

Be Consistent With The Theme And Layout

There are several aspects of keeping distractions to a minimum and being consistent with your theme and layout throughout your PowerPoint is certainly a major player in that. You don’t want to create any thoughts that would alter the audience’s focus on your content and what your are saying. You can do this by not only keeping the theme consistent (that is pretty straightforward), but also the layout. For example, if one topic takes up two slides, be sure to label the second slide and add “(Continued)” at the end of the title. This will quickly show the audience you’re on the same topic, despite switching slides and keep the focus on the topic instead of wondering what that slide might be about.

Forget Clip Art, Crazy Sounds And Fancy Transitions

Speaking of distractions, this is another big player. Some visuals can be good. However, irrelevant visuals or sounds (actually just any sounds) and crazy transitions are not only very distracting to the audience, but also it gives your PowerPoint a less professional appears. I would recommend staying away from most of these, such as this green-ish-yellow, fluffy thing below.


make better powerpoint presentations

In college I had an instructor who loved all of these things. I feel she should have taught/be teaching Kindergarten, if that gives you any idea what she (and her presentations) were like.

Don’t Read Your PowerPoint. Period.

Really? You still read your PowerPoints? I really hope you don’t. And not to offend you if you do, but you need to stop – for the good of mankind. Alright, now that I am done taunting your dignity, let me ask you this: have you ever listened to someone read something? If they are really good at it, like some professions require, you can barely tell. But if they are average like most of us, it sounds monotone and bland. You don’t want others to think that about you right? This gets back to why you are giving the presentation in the first place. Are you giving it because you have to? Because you enjoy the topic? Or because you want the audience to absorb as much knowledge and content as possible to make positive changes? Perhaps it’s several, but hopefully the last one is one of them because, if not, you are unlikely to convey the content you worked so hard to research and assemble in a manner that your audience would enjoy learning about and applying.

Lastly, there’s no reason to read what your audience can clearly see. Your goal as a presenter is to expand beyond the PowerPoint itself. The PowerPoint is simply a guide and extensive outline for the audience to follow along throughout your presentation.


Delivery of the content is just as important as the content itself. Here’s a solution I have found for this problem, which works great for me. After creating your PowerPoint, go through it and create a script. The script can consist of anything you want from an outline or summary of your presentation to a complete imitation of what you intend to say. Throughout the script include where slide transitions will occur so you won’t forget to change slides as you are giving your presentation. It’s okay to glance down to read, but you should already have somewhat of an understanding of what you are going to say already.

Get To The Point And Assassinate The Saga

This is the other side to not reading what you are going to say. It’s hard to provide a meaningful presentation whenever all you do is read point after point (that is what the script is for). But don’t put that script in the slides themselves. That might sound like common sense to you, but I had an instructor whose slides were so packed full, it took way to long to get the major points and important information from them. Quite frustrating when trying to study. But it’s not just about studying – how about in a work place when your PowerPoint needs to be a resource to others? They don’t want to take the time to scour through your novel-like slides. So, like the title says, get to the point – it’s called a PowerPoint for a reason, not a “PowerSaga.”

Use Media, But Quality Media

Earlier I talked about not using crazy images, such as Clip Art, or other distracting media. This doesn’t mean you can’t use it at all. Photos, videos, even audio clips have their place when relevant. Key word there. Don’t have a random photo just to fill space. Instead, find something that relates to what your talking about. It’s a plus if it adds quality to what you’re already saying, however if it’s only to make the slide a little less of a sterile appearance, that is ok too. Just be sure that it is relevant to what you’re covering and won’t take away from the audience’s focus.

Use The Resources Available To You

make better powerpoint presentations


Perhaps there’s been times where you had an idea for something you wanted to do, but didn’t have the know-how to implement it in your PowerPoint. Don’t forget about simply searching the internet. Of course there’s a lot of tips and information on the Microsoft website and it is a great resource for things such as this. But even a quick search on your preferred search engine will yield fantastic results because likely there’ has been someone else who has wondered the same thing and found a solution.

It All Lies On You, The Presenter

make better powerpoint presentations

Capturing the audience’s attention from the get-go is crucial to the success of your presentation and the impact that it will have on them. Start with a catchy line, an intriguing statistic or a question to spark their curiosity. Once you have it, you have got to maintain it. You do this by following the previous tips mentioned here and one other thing: the vibe you give off. Are you nervous? Or are you relaxed and yourself? You need to be the latter, whatever it might be. Don’t worry if you feel your personality is inadequate for the content you’re presenting – don’t try to change it. Instead, trust your instincts and be yourself. For example, if you’re funny, throw your own humor in here and there. Or if you’re more serious, do that instead. The key is to convey confidence in yourself, your work and the content you’re presenting.

Practice. Practice. Practice. (And Don’t Put It Off)

make powerpoint presentations good


So how can you be confident in those things? Simple – practice. You should have your entire presentation (not your PowerPoint) memorized. Doing this will improve the flow of information, portray confidence, prevent dry presentations (monotone) and reading of the slides, and capture the attention of the audience better. Putting this off will only increase the negatives and decrease the positives. So don’t procrastinate and stay ahead of the game.

Backup (Because Your “Daddy Taught You Good”)

Doh! You just saved your PowerPoint in only one place – the only flash drive you had. And on the way into the building, you dropped it in a mud puddle. Hope it still works – your job/grade and other people are relying on you. If that hasn’t ever happened to you, we all know of someone who it has happened to. It’s common sense to backup, so do it! It’s free (mostly) and there is really no reason not to, except for your own laziness – which is just pathetic that you allow it to get in the way. You know you’d regret those times you didn’t backup if something like this did happen to you, so why not prevent all of that stress and just do things right from the start.

There are several ways to go about this. First, have multiple locations of the same file in different sources. So if you have the file on your computer, have it on a flash drive too. If you intend on only bringing a flash drive to plug into a different computer to give the presentation, try using a cloud service Dropbox vs. Google Drive vs. OneDrive: Which Cloud Storage Is Best for You? Have you changed the way you think about cloud storage? The popular options of Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive have been joined by others. We help you answer which cloud storage service should you use. Read More such as Dropbox, SugarSync, SkyDrive or Google Drive. There are a plethora of other services as well, but those are my preferred choices, SugarSync being my personal favorite SugarSync: The Most Well-Rounded Free File Backup & Syncing Service File backup is not a new conversation or topic by any means. If you search Google for “file backup” you will likely be overwhelmed by services and articles on the topic. It is a vast... Read More . Another option is to have both a portable hard drive and a flash drive (or two of the same type of device), that way if you aren’t sure about the reliability of an Internet connection, you still have a backup. I’m not picky about how you backup, just as long as you do and it’s reliable.

In addition, save as you type your PowerPoint and presentation script. Name the files from the start and then simply use “Ctrl+S” as you type. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve done that in this article alone. Even if you think of saving midsentence – just do it. It only takes a second and saves hours of frustration.


To recap, remember that there are many things you can do to make your PowerPoint more enjoyable to read and simply understand. That said, the other 50% of the weight is determined by how well you present the material. Both must be in unison to capture and retain the audience’s attention to ensure they fully comprehend the content you have worked so hard to prepare. But it doesn’t stop there. You must focus the content to the audience’s needs and interests. If it isn’t their particular interest, you can make up for it through the areas of presenting the content itself by using analogies to relate it to them as much as possible and your own personality. Those things combined with the confidence you gained through repetitively studying your presentation script will ensure your audience stays intrigued. Lastly, don’t forget about backing up. It can seem like a hassle, but just remember it is a whole lot more of one when you must recreate everything that you lost.

For more helpful tips, check out 10 PowerPoint Tips for Preparing a Professional Presentation 10 PowerPoint Tips for Preparing a Professional Presentation Use these Microsoft PowerPoint tips to avoid common mistakes, keep your audience engaged, and create a professional presentation. Read More by Tina and The 10-20-30 Rule of PowerPoint by Guy Kawasaki.

Image Credit: Hand Breaks Through White via Shutterstock | Yellow Toy via Shutterstock | Cute Furry FerretConcentration Comic via Shutterstock |  Illustration of businessman via Shutterstock

Related topics: Microsoft PowerPoint, Presentations.

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  1. Brenden Barlow
    December 14, 2012 at 7:36 am

    absolutely awesome article. most of these i learned in school through business classes, but overall verrrrry informative.

  2. Sri Vastav Reddy
    November 16, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    This is truly an Amazing and Awesome Article :)

  3. Debbie Strain
    November 16, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Excellent! Lots of valid points. I like a basic powerpoint with very little media. Can not stand a presenter who reads each point or has over cluttered their slides.

  4. Leslie D Hudson
    November 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Great post guys.

  5. Tony Yarbrough
    November 13, 2012 at 4:05 am

    The presentation is designed to provide, share, or solicit information to the participants who were invited to this meeting. Define the purpose of the meeting in your own mind: is it to "sell", "tell" or "inform". Like a book, there's a beginning [why are we here], middle [actions] and end [assignments and followup].
    A great presentation starts by telling a good story... While telling the story, support the main points visually with an opening summary [font size/color matter, for example Verdana/NEVER Red], followed by bullet points [no more than 4-5 per slide] to accent the "actions" soliciting questions or feedback, then in summary, ask open-ended questions of your audience to be sure the points were made and invoke participations [if desired]. The PPT part of the presentation should be a tool, not the "show" - YOU are the show.
    As a veteran presenter the best possible advice is to do dry-runs, open rehersals, practicing, self-record yourself, make adjustments and give it a strong performance. After you do a few of these, it becomes second-nature and it can all be done on the fly.

  6. Adrian Rea
    November 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Very useful article though I have been tio a presentation on the 'graveyard' shift (just after lunch) and this was interjected by all forms of Starwars media, it really helped keep us awake after a big meal

  7. Anthony Monori
    November 12, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Exactly what I was looking for

  8. godfrey mremi
    November 11, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    the way it is! . you real boost my expirience time i will do my best

  9. Boni Oloff
    November 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Wow, looks like you have a very intense experience with powerpoint.
    I think simple is better in this case. Too many effect will make people just see how cool it is and not the content, or they maybe just think, what is this, looks not important.
    Nothing so good about it i think, but, that's according to situation and the audience i think.

  10. Ritwick Saikia
    November 11, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Good points all but then there's that famous saying: "A picture is worth a thousand words". But perhaps it should be amended to "good and relevant pictures" in this case ;-)

  11. Márcio Guerra
    November 11, 2012 at 3:47 am

    Nice tips... But now I'm worried to what to do with the fuzzy guy... Ehehehe!



  12. Arron Walker
    November 10, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Sound advice - should be given as standard in any school education. Sadly, it is not.

  13. Somaiya Ebrahim
    November 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    thank you for the article...i use powerpoint for all my college presentations.

  14. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Heavens. Majority of my classmates (and sometimes teachers) LOVE to get all the scripts and stuffs in their slides, which are essentially wall of texts. They're not presenting. They're reading. It's truly a murder.
    Did I mention excessive craze to irrelevant cute images or whirling layout of animation madness? Common rule of thumb: The gaudier, the better
    School might want to give an extra class 'Presentation 101' to introduce them to the amazing bullet points, hyperlinks, and how to presentate properly.

  15. Rdo. Neto
    November 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I had already read books and watched some videos on this topic before, but it is always nice to hear about presentations. I changed a lot the way I give presentations since I got in contact with the ideas of Guy Kawasaki and Garr Reynolds. It's a given that you are going to draw attention with the tips above because pretty much people still read slides, put a lot of text on them, do not get ready enough and so on.

  16. Kamruzzaman Chowdhury
    November 10, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for sharing these useful tips.

  17. Nikhil Chandak
    November 10, 2012 at 11:20 am

    thanks for this great article !

  18. Saikat Basu
    November 10, 2012 at 7:14 am

    PowerPoint is a visualization tool. Never turn it into a textual tool. Even if use simple but memorable images meant to convey the important points of your speech, it creates an impact. The goal is to give the audience something that they will carry with them in their minds after the presentation.

    • Boni Oloff
      November 12, 2012 at 11:53 am

      Wow, you get the point i think.

    • Douglas Mutay
      November 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      "PowerPoint is a visualization tool. Never turn it into a textual tool." This should be on the begining of EVERY training pertaining to Powerpoint. Thanks Basu!

  19. Terafall
    November 10, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Thank you for the article.Now I know why my presentation was bad

  20. Suresh Volam
    November 10, 2012 at 4:10 am

    Excellent. Thank you for the nice article.

  21. Félix S. De Jesús
    November 10, 2012 at 4:05 am

    Only on Art Classes are accepted fancy things for a PowerPoint. That was my experience hehehehe... But in other presentations, i prefer use black and blue for better presentation, instead of using other colors. Because people can think that I'm not serious.

    • Douglas Mutay
      November 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm

      Yes Felix, you're perfectly right on this ;-)