The Point of PowerPoint


It’s often listed on resumés as a skill, used daily for meetings and presentations, and bemoaned by users and designers alike. I’m talking about PowerPoint. The core use of PowerPoint as presentation is a strong tool, but it’s often misused, even with the best intent. Here are some guidelines for making PowerPoint work for you, instead of against you.

1. Use it as an aid. One of the biggest faux pas of PowerPoint is trying to load an entire presentation onto its pages, complete with animations, whizzbangs, and colors, oh my! A good rule of thumb is to stick to bullet points—not complete sentences, but short statements that back up what you’re presenting. A PowerPoint should not be a standalone piece! If you are sending a PowerPoint to someone who is not going to see your presentation, use the notes feature to place the entirety of your talk there. Think of your PowerPoint as the CliffNotes version.


2. Start with an outline. What’s the story you’re trying to convey? By building an outline, you’ll not only have a good understanding of your beginning, middle, and end (high school english, anyone?), but you’ll also have a great start toward your content that should end up on a PowerPoint—the brevity of an outline is about the perfect length for a PowerPoint.


3. Stick to one topic. Or two, max three. But you get the idea. Yes, you may have fantastic ideas, but cramming everything into one presentation will give a viewer information overload. Instead of asking questions and engaging in the content, they’ll be backpedaling away from the wealth of information you were trying to provide.


4. Use a template. Remember the old adage of ‘first you must learn the rules, then you can break them’? (or something along those lines). Keep that front of mind as you begin your presentation design. Use a simple template to establish title pages, sub-pages, and areas you’d like to call attention to. From there you can change, add to, or delete slides. Go back to your outline to delineate between title pages and secondary pages.


5. Keep it consistent. So you have 15 charts, all from different sources? Take the time to get them redrawn so they have a consistent visual language. This serves two purposes: 1. the charts are created to fit perfectly in your presentation and 2. most times you can tailor the data in each chart to suit the need of your presentation, thus eliminating extraneous detail (and getting back to the simplicity idea!)



6. Keep it simple. Stick to one font in various weights (Helvetica, regular, bold, light, etc.) and remember to be consistent throughout. If you use Helvetica 20pt bold for headlines on page one, you should use it on all headlines. Remember those whizzbangs from tip 1? While they might look flashy, most times it is best to refrain. They are detracting from the presentation, and once you go down that rabbit hole, it can be hard to find the ladder out again.

Stick to these tips, and you’ll be on your way to a great PowerPoint presentation!