Most people have never had any official training on how to create an effective PowerPoint presentation. They often throw together some bullets, or even write word for word what they want to say, throw in a few graphs, quotes, and charts, and call it good. While this gets you by most of the time, the fact is you’re missing valuable opportunities to impress key stakeholders by simply knowing how to properly present your information.
Here are eight guidelines to success when creating a PowerPoint presentation:
Always keep the audience in mind
When you start creating a PowerPoint presentation, the most important question to ask yourself is, “Who is my audience?” The answer to this will greatly impact the methods and setup of your PowerPoint slides. The key takeaway from this is to remember – the higher up the chain you go, the higher level summary you should provide. Executive management is interested in getting the facts quickly in order to make a decision. They assume the details are taken care of, and want the facts in a simple and understandable format with recommendations.
Avoid too much information on one slide
If you remember nothing else, remember this: Never put too much information on one slide. When someone sees a slide pop up in front of them, and it’s a sea of words their brain immediately turns off. And what’s even worse is that with too much information on the slide they may not be able to even read it. Each slide should have only a few bullets or one/two graphs. Keep the font large enough for everyone in the back to read, and make sure you have a clear objective for what you are trying to convey on the slide. Make your point as simply as possible, and delete anything else or move it to another slide.
Basic and soft colors
The goal is to make your presentation easy to look at, and easy to understand. Use basic colors for backgrounds. If possible, light backgrounds with dark fonts is preferred. Bright colors and weird fonts will distract from the message you are trying to convey.
Keep Animations and Transitions to a minimum
In a business setting there is generally little need for animations and transitions. If you feel they are necessary, keep them to a minimum and only use basic options such as fade. Words spinning in and spinning out, and crazy transitions should be kept for less formal presentations.
Summary Slide to begin
Begin each presentation with an executive summary. (This is especially important for presenting to executives!) The presentation may contain information on multiple topics, but if a VP or executive opens the presentation on her laptop during her business trip overseas, she will want to know and see immediately what this presentation will cover. She may decide she wants to review some or all. Provide links to each of the sections or slides for easy navigation. The key is to give her the option to review what she wants to see. If you are making a recommendation, you will want to include that in the summary slide. This will keep the executive from having to dig through information to get what she really wants.
Less words, more pictures.
Don’t get too wordy. You want the bullets to serve as key point reminders and summarize what you plan to speak to. Never read word for word when presenting. When possible, a chart, graph, or picture is better than words. If you can convey your point with a simple graph and one bullet, this is the ideal situation.
Make graphs and charts very simple
This topic almost requires an article all to it’s own, but the key to remember is graphs should be simple and basic.
- Format each axis with as little detail as possible. E.g. can you present by 1,000’s instead of 100’s?
- Ask yourself questions like, “Can I summarize by quarter instead of month?” or “Can I consolidate some of the areas into groups” E.g. instead of reporting labor and benefits as two separate bars, combine them into one.
- Remove as many grid-lines as possible. If it’s possible to remove all grid-lines that’s even better.
- Keep the background the same as your presentation background.
- Make the legend simple and preferably to the right.
- As with the presentation in general, keep the colors basic and soft.
- Avoid too many series in one graph.
Here are some examples of good and bad charts. And even though you might think the bad example somewhat extreme - you'd be surprised what I've seen...
Just remember: When you think you’ve simplified your chart as much as possible… remove or combine one more aspect, and then it will be perfect!
Also keep in mind that each graph should have a specific point to convey and have a bullet to summarize what you are wanting the audience to know. If they are looking at a chart, what is it telling them? Make this clear with a bullet below the chart. The chart above might say something like:
- Series 1 and 3 trending up due to x reason.
Include detail in “backup” section
This circles back to the same concept I’ve emphasized throughout: Keep the presentation as simple as possible. If you have detailed charts and information, just put them in a backup section of the presentation. Separate this from your main presentation with a blank slide.
By using these eight guidelines, your PowerPoint presentation will not only convey your information more effectively, but help management make informed decisions without needing to dig for information. Now it’s time to impress your boss with your new and improved PowerPoint skills.