PowerPoint is a wonderful presentation tool, which many use in an ineffectual way. Slides are often riddled with bullets, heavy with text, poor color combinations and much more. This article covers key points that will help you get started on the path to a better PowerPoint.
Auditory and Visual Channels
PowerPoint is a visual medium. There is an art and science to creating well designed slides. It is critical to first understand how we as humans process information, which will benefit you when designing your slides.
Dr. Richard E. Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara is the author of Multimedia Learning. Dr. Mayer states in his book that humans process information in two channels; auditory & visual. It is important to design multimedia presentations to speak to both channels.
Bulleted Lists Can Be Distracting
Bulleted lists do have a place in a presentation but text and bullets should not dominate your slides, otherwise it becomes a document not a presentation.
Slides heavy with text and riddled with bullets can be distracting to an audience. It can cause your audience to disconnect from you. The nature of the majority is to read instead of listen. As my friend and PowerPoint mentor Julie Terberg of Terberg Design would say “you are causing your audience to disconnect from you.” The bulleted list approach forces an audience to choose whether to read or listen. Most of us try to do both and when we do we disconnect ourselves from the speaker.
Consider showing one bullet point at a time and speak to the point shown before displaying the next bullet. Include a visual where possible to connect the audience quickly to the point of discussion. In some instances, a single visual can drive home a key point.
The pie chart slide below is an example of using a purchased photograph to graphically depict a point. The slide contains minimal text. The text on the pie slice is a simple text box.
When using a bulleted list keep it simple and stick to one line for each bullet point. Keep the word count per line down to a minimum.
Design your PowerPoint slides so that they take your audience on a visual journey of your presentation in a way that will quickly and effectively connect them to your message.
Use images to tell a story, connect you to your audience and to accelerate learning or message retention. The slide below contains three images with three points. These images help quickly convey my three points in a memorable way. It is much more effective than if I had used standard bullet points to convey the same three points.
Always project a professional image and use good stock photography and stay away from the cartoon images. This is not to say that you can never use a cartoon as it too has its time and place for use.
Look at the “Use slides to…” slide above. Notice the text has been placed above each visual. Dr. Mayer calls this spatial contiguity – the placement of text near an image. The benefit of placing text near an image aids the reader in recall of information later.
When using colors keep your audience in mind – do the colors contrast well? Using colors in slide design is much like decorating a room – some colors just don’t go well together. You must be concerned about readability. Choose colors that contrast well together. Keep these two basic contrast rules in mind; 1) dark backgrounds/light text and 2) light backgrounds/dark text as shown in the following sample slide.
Fonts are an important part of slide design. People often use what I call the “silly” fonts like Comic Sans Serif. This font type does not visually portray a serious or professional tone. There are many considerations when using fonts such as the number of fonts. Designers suggest that we stick with two fonts, one for headings and another for the body text. Think large to small when using fonts. Main titles should be larger than subtitles.
It is safe to say that the majority of us who create PowerPoint presentations are not graphic designers. However, we can learn simple design rules from the professionals that we can quickly put into practice.
Ellen Finkelstein, PowerPoint designer and author of How to Do Everything with PowerPoint 2007, states “The main consideration with fonts is legibility and simplicity. You want people in the back of the room to be able to read the text. The text, whether because of the font, color, or animation, shouldn’t distract from the message. Certain fonts, like Verdana and Tahoma, were created to be easy to read on-screen, so they are good choices. Pick a font and stick with it. Test your slides by projecting them on the wall, standing as far back as possible, and making sure the text is clear.”
Verdana and Tahoma are part of the sans serif fonts, which tend to be more legible than serif fonts when projected.
Do Your Homework
One of the first steps in creating an effective presentation is writing your presentation. As you develop your presentation think of ways you can visually depict key points. Think creatively.
If I were to task you with creating a brief presentation on preventing heat exhaustion, what would you do first? You should write your script first and think about the images that would best convey your message. What images come to your mind when you think about the prevention of heat exhaustion? Would you create a slide containing a bulleted list of all things that can cause heat exhaustion and another slide that lists what can be done to prevent heat exhaustion? I am not going to give you the answers on this one. This is going to be your assignment. Think visual and that is all I am going to tell you. Try out what you have learned in this article and see what you come up with.
Suggested Reading and Help From The Designers
I have listed below some of the books that I have read and found very helpful. In addition, I have listed web sites that I think you will find helplful in your journey to learn more about what it takes to make a great PowerPoint! Happy Designing!
P. S. – if you like this article and/or have additional resources you would like to add for readers, please leave your comments. Be sure to use the links on this page to share with your Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and on Twitter too!