Sure we’ve all heard of “death by PowerPoint,” slides upon slides of boring content, with no visual interest, being read word-for-word from the screen. PowerPoint can be deadly when not handled with care – but it can also be awesome. Even TED speakers use a form of PowerPoint in their talks – so how bad could it really be?
Here are some tips I’ve used to elevate my own PowerPoints from mundane to magnificent; I hope you’ll find them useful too.
Rule #1: Start with a great template.
I do NOT mean the ones built into the PowerPoint program. There are plenty of fantastic free templates available online that you can download and use as-is, or at the least, browse for inspiration to create your own unique design (my favorite website is slidescarnival.com). A word of caution: many of these templates come with tons of slide layouts, but don’t feel you need to use all of them in your final presentation. Pick a title slide and 2-3 other layouts that work for the content you’re presenting, then delete the other slides. You will drive your audience nutty with constant changes to content AND layout.
If you’re in the boat where you’ve been given a template you must follow, never fear! Keep reading…
Rule #2: Use the native editing tools to make it your own.
You have a basic template in place which gives you an idea of your color scheme and where things go on the slide, but how can you set yourself apart? This is where it can get fun. My go-to tools in PowerPoint are “Crop to Shape” and the shape editing tools:
- Paste any photo or graphic into PowerPoint then select the dropdown from the Crop tool to make circles, triangles, rounded rectangles… you the get the idea. When you first crop, it will crop to the dimensions of your photo – to adjust this, just click crop again to fine-tune.
- I equate the shape editing tools to “graphic-design tools for beginners.” Create all sorts of simple icons by experimenting with the “Merge Shapes” and “Edit Points” tools.
If you saw something really cool in someone else’s PowerPoint, use Google to learn how to do it – check out my blog post about this.
Rule #3: Be consistent.
There is nothing worse than seeing a PowerPoint that mixes image styles, fonts, and colors without any rhyme or reason.
Think of it this way – it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
If you use a larger/bolder font on your first bullet, and a smaller font on your next bullet, you are telling your audience that the first bullet is more important. If that’s what you meant, fine – otherwise, inconsistencies in your design will distract your audience. Here are a few missteps I often see:
- Make sure you use the same font throughout – your titles and bullets can be the same or different fonts, but be consistent. Check that you’re using the same font size on each slide too.
- Check the style of your images – if you must alternate between photos and graphics, do it in a meaningful way (i.e. not just because you couldn’t find a photo). Avoid clipart and cartoon-ish graphics.
- Once you’re done with your editing, quickly click through your slides – are all the titles, shapes, photos, and content aligned consistently from slide to slide? Sometimes during editing things shift – take a final step to clean everything up.
Rule #4: Less is more.
I mentioned at the start, even the famous TED Talk speakers employ PowerPoint-esque slides to convey their stories. Aside from being impeccably timed, their slides are also very minimal on content. They support the story – but are not responsible for telling it.
You will be most successful when you think of PowerPoint as a tool to drive your message home – rather than a means to deliver your message.
Too many words on the screen will distract, too little white space will feel cluttered. Don’t be afraid to be a PowerPoint minimalist.
PowerPoint will always be a staple for board rooms, conferences, and countless other venues where information is exchanged. What you decide to put on the screen can either draw your audience in, or cause them to shut down.
You earned your right to be up on stage – make it count!
No matter your field, I implore you to give some extra thought to your next PowerPoint. How will you use this tool to engage your audience, tell a story, and convey your expertise?
Go get ’em!