Wednesday, February 8, 2012

5 Principles for Effective PowerPoint Presentations

Faculty everywhere have come to depend on PowerPoint (PPT) for presenting information to their students in the classroom. Well, I say "PowerPoint," but really, I'm talking about any presentation software, including PPT, Keynote (Mac), and even the unique and constantly improving Prezi.

No matter what kind of presentation software you use, keep these five principles in mind as you prepare your slides.

#1 Brief is better.

You've probably spent time in conferences squinting at the screen, trying to read huge amounts of tiny print because the speaker put too much content on the slide. If your audience — your students, other teachers, or a whole auditorium of colleagues — can't read your slides, what's the sense of putting all that content on there?

Keep your slides brief and to the point. Each slide should perform a particular function, such as any of the following:

  • Reminding you what you want to talk about

  • Getting the audience to focus on one point

  • Presenting a key concept

#2 Cut down on the text.

I think I said "Keep it brief" already, but I really really mean it. Use these tricks to help you whittle away the textual content on your slides:

  • Delete all articles (a, an, the). Seriously. You don't need them and neither does your audience.

  • Keep each concept separate. Don't try to jam three key points into one bullet. Instead, make them separate bullets or even separate slides.

  • Don't be afraid to use more slides. The number of slides in your presentation is not the primary indicator of how long your talk will be. What's important is choosing which slides to spend your time on.

  • Use graphics to help tell part of the story.

#3 Don't overdesign.

Don't do things that make your audience focus more on the presentation software than on what you're saying. To that end, don't do this kind of stuff:

  • Don't use lots of different fonts and font colors. Oooh, aren't they pretty? NO! They're distracting, is what they are.

  • Don't set the slide transitions to "Random." This is the mark of true amateurs who don't have a clue what they're doing.

  • Don't use colors to indicate emphasis, do that yourself as you're talking.

  • Don't have objects flying in for all different places, like mosquitos in tent. Make them all come into the slide the same way.

  • Don't use a red font over a blue background. I don't know why people think that red stands out, but it doesn't. It can stand out on white or pale yellow, but on anything it gets lost or just looks awful.

#4 Use simple, clear, and consistently applied fonts, slide transitions, and animations.

Following up on #3, here are tips to always follow:

  • Use clean, easy to read fonts, such as Arial, Helvetica, Calibri, Cambria, Century Gothic, Lucida, and Tahoma. Avoid smaller fonts, such as Garamond, Georgia, and Book Antiqua.

  • Use one font for slide headings and another for bullet text.

  • Make sure your font color has enough contrast to make it stand out against the background.

  • Make slide transitions and animations subtle. The idea is to get the audience to focus on what you're saying, not on how cool the animations are. I recommend Fade, Shape, or just plain Appear.

#5 Let graphics work for you, not against you.

  • Keep graphs simple, each one offering one key point. Cramming too much data on a slide, particularly through the use of stacked bar graphs and scatter plot graphs, won't do you or your audience any good. Put them in a handout, making them large enough to read easily.

  • Remember that when you project your show on screen that the colors will wash out a bit, meaning they'll lose contrast. So what looks vibrant on your monitor won't appear quite that vibrant on the screen. So give your overall design lots of contrast with either a dark background and really light text or a light or white background and dark text.

  • Use cartoons sparingly, and when you use them, don't be afraid to let them take up the entire screen.

I'll leave you with one more tip that I might not have mentioned before.

Keep it short!