As a PowerPoint user in the corporate culture for several years, I've found the
following guidelines helpful:
- What’s the point? Identify and highlight the essential information in
your presentation. Don’t let it get buried in bulleted lists and hundreds of
slides. Ask yourself: Could someone watching this presentation come away with a
clear sense of the concept I’m presenting? If you’re not sure, take another look
at your PowerPoint presentation.
- Tell a story. It’s far easier, especially in technical presentations,
to lay out a series of detailed slides as if you were writing a computer manual.
However, a good story always captures people’s attention and leaves them with a
clearer understanding of your topic. Even the most mundane subject can be
organized into a story. I like to use the following formula:
2. Topic introduction (thesis)
3. Three main subtopics
Expansion on the three subtopics
5. Summarization of the three subtopics in support of
- Keep bullet points short. Focus on key words that will resonate with
the listener. Don’t include long sentences and paragraphs in bulleted items. If
you must feature a quote, do so in a single slide.
- A picture is worth a thousand bullet points. Consider each slide and
see if a picture might better represent its concept. If all you have is slide
after slide of bullet points, you may want to avoid using PowerPoint altogether.
While I don’t think that bullet points should never be used, you’ll likely slay
your audience if that’s all you use.
- Examine your graphics. Are your graphics well designed? (If you know
a graphic designer, get his or her opinion.) Also, ensure the graphics convey
the correct message. Are they too busy? Are charts too complicated? You might
consider dropping unessential data from the charts. Will someone looking at your
graphics understand them? Make sure that they do.
- Limit your use of transitions. I've seen amateurs get carried away
with the variety of transitions and animations available in PowerPoint. The type
of transition you use depends on the audience and your own tastes. If, for
example, you’re making a presentation to a group of lawyers or accountants,
limit yourself to simple transitions. If you’re making a presentation to a room
of commercial artists, you may hold their interest by using more creative
- Select one transition and use it consistently. It’s annoying to the
audience when transitions behave differently with every slide and bullet point.
Don’t make your transitions a distraction. Remember their function: to
seamlessly move from one slide or idea to the next.
- Become a stern editor. Cut unnecessary slides. If you create
handouts, each slide or two creates another handout page. Your audience will be
carting these around and filing them (or piling them on their desks). Respect
your audience and limit the number of pages they need to store.
- Include notes with your PPT file. Your PowerPoint file may live on
for several years. For example, many conferences publish proceedings as
PowerPoint files. If your file might be subject to an extended life, pictures or
bullet points may not tell the whole story.
- Practice your presentation. With all the demands that corporate
culture places on your time, you may not always have time to practice the
presentation. However, practicing it will give you a sense of timing and help
you measure its flow and logical organization.