10 PowerPoint hacks to make your presentations look more professional
Go easy on the content, and instead wow your audience with simple, streamlined slides.
Anybody who has been in the workforce for as long as you have has undoubtedly sat through a PowerPoint presentation. When those decks are good, they can be very helpful at explaining goals and visualizing data points.
But when PowerPoint presentations are bad, well, let’s just say you probably spent more time trying to figure out how so many different fonts could fit into a single slide rather than paying attention to the words they spelled out.
When it comes time for you to make a PowerPoint deck—and there will very likely come a time—you want to make sure that you use the program correctly so it reinforces your core messages and connects with your audience.
These 10 PowerPoint hacks can keep your presentations clean, effective and are surprisingly effective.
Write before you design
“At its best, PowerPoint can help show your audience what your message means,” says Kenny Nguyen, co-author of The Big Fish Experience: Create Memorable Presentations That Reel In Your Audience and CEO of Three Sixty Eight, a design agency in Baton Rouge. But first you need to clearly define what your message is and what your presentation goals are.
Sandra Johnson, owner of Presentation Wiz in Green Bay, Wisconsin, advises walking away from the computer completely at this stage because although PowerPoint is a powerful tool for delivering a presentation, it’s lousy for writing one. Instead, create the headlines for your slides on Post-It notes, sheets of paper or a sketchpad.
“Write one headline per Post-It/page, then lay them out so that you can see your story—in the form of headlines—come to life,” she says. “These allow you to move pages around and adjust headlines.”
Make sure your story has a clear beginning, middle and end. Once you have the bones of the presentation laid out, then you can write your script.
Start with a title slide that piques interest
Your title slide should make your audience want to know more. Pull them in quickly with a statement that directly addresses the questions you’re going to answer, such as “Why Stricter Regulations Are Good For Your Business.”
Another tactic is to make the audience part of the presentation. Tell them upfront how they are going to be involved in the information you’re presenting, such as “Choose the New Logo That Will Propel Our Brand Forward.”
Stick to simple designs
As you’re building out your PowerPoint deck, resist the temptation to unleash your inner artist. Less truly is more.
If your organization doesn’t have a template you’re required to use, choose one with a simple background, says David Paradi, presentation expert and owner of Think Outside the Slide in Mississauga, Ontario. If you’re in a hurry, you can always Google “free PowerPoint templates” and get started right away on a basic slide deck.
Select standard, sans serif fonts such as Arial or Calibri that will work on all computers and are easy to read, he says. Speaking of fonts: Choose three, max. And you have to use them consistently, Nguyen says. That means the same font for all headlines and the same for all body text.
Emphasize one point per slide
Your audience needs to easily absorb the information you’re sharing, otherwise all your efforts are for naught. If you pile multiple points into one slide, you risk overwhelming people, Johnson warns. Rule of thumb: Share one thought per slide.
Find yourself needing more slides than you have minutes available in your presentation? That’s a sign you may be cramming too much into the presentation itself. Edit your content ruthlessly.
Use text sparingly
If people are reading your slides, they aren’t listening to you. Keep the volume of text on each slide to the bare minimum; this will also maximize the impact of each word. “Write concise points that allow you to expand on each idea as you speak,” Paradi says.
Choose a font size of at least 24 points to ensure your audience can easily read your slides. Johnson suggests using only one headline or short sentence for each slide. If you must use bullet points, she says, use only three to five bullets with only three to five words each. Everyone’s eyes will thank you.
Select images for impact
Images should be chosen carefully to reinforce your message, not merely to jazz up the slide.
Use graphs and charts to show comparisons and trends, Johnson says. You don’t need a bar chart to show that sales grew by 16% in the fourth quarter, for example, but one can be helpful to show how sales grew compared with other quarters.
And please, pass on the generic clip art. Thinkstock, iStock and Stocksy are all better sources for stock images, should you find you need them. (Pro tip: You probably don’t.)
Practice your verbal presentation
PowerPoint slides are meant to be a complement to your speech—not the star of the show, which is you. Think of them like illustrations of the story that you’re telling.
To tell a good story, rehearse your presentation out loud to make sure it flows and fits in the time allowed, Paradi says. “If you can rehearse in the room and with the equipment you will be using, you will be more confident on the day of the presentation,” he says.
Nguyen recommends recording yourself during the practice presentation so you can identify and correct areas where you stumble.
Run it by a colleague
Let someone review your presentation deck before you go live with it. A trusted colleague or friend can check for embarrassing typos, as well as whether your message comes through loud and clear.
“PowerPoints are a great collaborative opportunity,” Johnson says. “You may be saying something a certain way, and a colleague may be able to offer a better approach.”
End with a persuasive call to action
Your last few slides should quickly summarize what you shared and guide your audience on how to use that information, Paradi says. This isn’t the time to introduce new ideas.
A great call to action is upbeat, specific and actionable. For example, a common one for an internal audience might be to adopt a new business process. If you work in sales, you might invite them to privately demo your product. If it’s a presentation to an external audience, you may invite them to contact you for more information.
Not sure what your call to action is? Return to that wall of Post-it notes you created at the very beginning.
Explore the power of PowerPoint
These hacks are useful in a pinch, but for the long term, it’s worth it to become familiar with the PowerPoint software itself. Take an online course and learn the finer points of creating presentations, including complex graphics, videos and slide changes.
These skills will increase your value proposition to your current and future employers, as well as make you feel more comfortable when creating and delivering presentations.