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Professional presentations are all about making an impact. Your slides should look the part. Once you know what makes a presentation look professional, you can customize any half-decent PowerPoint template or create your own custom slides.
Our PowerPoint tips will help you avoid common mistakes, keep your audience engaged, and create a professional presentation, in form and content.
PowerPoint Slide Design
The design can leave a first and lasting impression. Give it a professional touch to win your audience's trust and attention.
1. Carefully Compose Your Slides
Don't copy and paste slides from different sources. You don't want your presentation to look like a rag rug. What you're aiming for is a consistent look. This will help your audience focus on the essential; your speech and the key facts you're highlighting on your slides.
To that end, use a basic template or make your own. PowerPoint comes with a wide selection of professional PowerPoint presentation templates, but you can also find free ones online.
PowerPoint Tip: When you open PowerPoint, note the search field at the top. One of the suggested searches is "presentations". Click it to see all of PowerPoint's default presentation templates. Choose a category on the right to narrow down your search.
Pick an easy to read font face. It's hard to get this right, but these professional-looking Google fonts are a safe bet. Unless you're a designer, stick to a single font face and limit yourself to playing with safe colors and font sizes.
If you're unsure about fonts, refer to "The 10 Commandments of Typography" shown below for orientation.
Carefully select font sizes for headers and text. While you don't want to create a wall of text and lose your audience's attention, you do want them to be able to read what you've highlighted. So make your fonts large enough.
PowerPoint Tip: PowerPoint offers several different slide layouts. When you add a new slide, choose the right layout under Home > New Slide. To switch the layout of an existing slide, use Home > Layout. By using the default layouts, you can make coherent design changes across your presentation anytime you want.
Leave room for highlights, such as images or take home messages. Some elements should stand out. So try not to bury them in background noise but give them the space they need. This could be a single quote or a single image per page with nothing but a simple header and a plain background.
Decorate scarcely but well. If you have good content, you won't need decoration. Your template will be decoratively enough.
Note: Restrict the room your design takes up, and don't ever let the design restrict your message.
2. Use Consistency
Consistently use font face and sizes on all slides. This one goes back to using a template. If you chose a professional presentation template, the designer would have taken care of this aspect. Stick to it!
Match colors. This is where so many presentations fail. You might have chosen a funky template and stuck to the designer's color profile, then you ruin it all with ugly Excel charts.
Take the time to match your visuals to your presentation design.
Text and Background Colors
A poor choice of colors can ruin your presentation.
3. Use Contrast
Black text on a white background will always be the best, but also the most boring choice. You're allowed to use colors! But use them responsibly.
Keep it easy on the eyes and always keep good contrast in mind. If you're color-challenged, use one of the many online tools to select a good looking color palette. Or just use a template and stick to its default colors.
PowerPoint Tip: Use PowerPoint's Design menu to quickly change the font and color palette of your entire presentation using preset design layouts.
4. Apply Brilliance
Carefully use color to highlight your message! Colors are your friends. They can make numbers stand out or your Take Home Message pop.
Don't weaken the color effect by using too many colors in too many instances. The special effect only works if used scarcely. Try to limit pop colors to one per slide.
Make a brilliant choice: match colors for design and good contrast to highlight your message. Use a professional color palette, to find which color will work best with your theme. Use The 10 Commandments of Color Theory shown below to learn more about colors:
Text on PowerPoint Slides
Keep It Straight and Simple. That means...
Keywords only on your slides.
Absolutely no full sentences!
And never read your slides, talk freely.
Remember that your slides are only there to support, not to replace your talk! You want to tell a story, visualize your data, and demonstrate key points. If you read your slides, you risk losing your audience's respect and attention.
PowerPoint Tip: Afraid you'll lose your train of thoughts? Add notes to your slides. Go to View and under Show click Notes to make them show up under your slides while editing. When starting your presentation, use PowerPoint's presentation mode (go to Slide Show and under Monitors, check Use Presenter View), so you can glance at your notes when needed.
6. Take Home Message
Always summarize your key point in a Take Home Message. Ask yourself, if your audience learned or remembered one single thing from your presentation, what would you like it to be? That's your Take Home Message.
The Take Home Message is your key message, a summary of your data or story. If you're giving an hour-long presentation, you might have several Take Home Messages. That's OK. Just make sure that what you think is key, really matters to your audience.
Make your Take Home Message memorable. It's your responsibility that your audience takes home something valuable. Help them "get it" by making your Take Home Message stand out, either visually or through how you frame it verbally.
Images are key elements of every presentation. Your audience has ears and eyes, they want to see what you're talking about, and a good visual cue will help them understand your message much better.
7. Add Images
Have more images in your slides than text. Visuals are your friends. They can illustrate your points and support your message.
But do not use images to decorate! That's a poor use of visuals because it's just a distraction.
Images can reinforce or complement your message. So use images to visualize or explain your story.
Use a sufficient image resolution. Your visuals might look good on your desktop, but once blown up by a projector, low-resolution images will make your presentation look anything but professional. So choose a resolution that matches the projector's resolution. If in doubt, don't go below a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels (XGA) and aim for 1920 x 1080 pixels (FullHD).
Always maintain your image's aspect ratio. Nothing looks more awkward than a distorted image. Whatever you do, don't stretch images. If you have to resize them, do so with the aspect ratio intact, even if that means dropping slightly above or below your target resolution.
PowerPoint Tip: Need a visual, but don't have one at hand? PowerPoint is connected to Bing's library of online images you can use for your presentations. Go to Insert and under Images select Online Images. You can browse by category or search the library. Be sure to set a checkmark for Creative Commons only, so you don't accidentally violate copyrights.
Note: Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In other words, if you don't have time for a thousand words, use a picture!
In animations, there is a fine line between a comic and a professional impression. But animations can be powerful tools to visualize and explain complicated matters. A good animation can not only improve understanding, it can also make the message stick with your audience.
8. Don't Be Silly
Sparingly use animations and media. You should only use them in one of two cases:
- To draw attention, for example, to your Take Home Message.
To clarify a model or emphasize an effect.
Embed the media in your presentation and make sure it works in presentation mode. Testing your presentation at home will save you time and avoid embarrassment.
Target Your Presentation Content
Your target, i.e. your audience, defines the content of your presentation. For example, you cannot teach school kids about the complicated matters of the economy, but you may be able to explain to them what the economy is in the first place and why it is important.
9. Keep Your Audience in Mind
When you compile your PowerPoint presentation, ask yourself these questions:
- What does my audience know?
- What do I need to tell them?
- What do they expect?
- What will be interesting to them?
- What can I teach them?
- What will keep them focused?
Answer these questions and boil your slides down to the very essentials. In your talk, describe the essentials colorfully and use your weapons, i.e. text, images, and animations wisely (see above).
Note: If you fail to hit the target, it won't matter how ingenious your design is or how brilliantly you picked colors and keywords. Nothing matters more than your audience's attention.
10. Practice Your Presentation Like a Professional
A well-practiced and enthusiastic talk will help you convince your audience and keep their attention. Here are some key points that define a good talk:
- Know your slides inside out.
- Speak freely.
- Speak with confidence, loud and clear.
- Speak at a steady pace, better too slow than too fast.
- Keep eye contact with your audience.
Bonus: Implement the 10/20/30 Rule
The 10/20/30 rule is a concept brought forward by Guy Kawasaki:
It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.
A similar concept is PechaKucha, a storytelling format limited to 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide, i.e. less than seven minutes to conclude the presentation.
Now there's a challenge! Telling your story succinctly, might help you get through to some of the busiest and most distracted people on the planet.
One Final PowerPoint Presentation Tip
I've shown you how to think through your entire presentation, from choosing a design to speaking to your audience. Here's a mind trick: never try to interpret the looks on your listeners' faces. Chances are, you're wrong. Just assume they're focused and taking notes.
You've done your best to create a professional PowerPoint presentation that will help your audience focus on the content and learn new things. The looks on their faces aren't doubt or confusion. It's focus! Well, d'oh! Obviously, you're the expert, and they're the learners. If you can get into this mindset, you can relax and perform at your best.