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Making a (Power) Point


At B Direct, clients often ask us to design PowerPoint systems — or clean up presentations they've started themselves. More often than not, we find ourselves trying to convince people that "less is more."

Just because you can fit 350 words on a PowerPoint slide, doesn't mean you should. In fact, that's precisely what you should not do.

PowerPoint slides should be persuasive visual aids. They should supplement an oral presentation and drive the most relevant points home. They should help make a presentation more entertaining, more educational, and more memorable.

The should not be a brochure.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of PowerPoint (not, we repeat, to be confused with cramming the most into PowerPoint).

  1. Think about your audience
    A PowerPoint deck is a communications vehicle, just like anything else you might create. Is the topic new to your audience? Will they be genuinely interested or easily bored? The content, language, and even graphics you choose should be tailored to your audience.
  2. Don't start with your slides.
    Start by outlining your presentation, doing the research you need to do, maybe even writing out a script. Then, when you are confident about what you're going to say — and how you're going to say it — you can build slides that illustrate and strengthen your talking points.
  3. Leverage the KISS principle
    KISS stands for "keep it simple, stupid." (And you thought it stood for aging rockstars in heavy make-up and platform boots.) Each slide you create should be organized and clean.
  4. Limit yourself
    Use less words wherever you can. This isn't English Composition 101; there's no need for full sentences. Highlight key messages, not your entire script. Use easily scannable bullets with as few words as feasible.
  5. Supplement your (brief) copy with engaging photos and other visuals
    Truth: people would rather look at pictures than words. Adding visual interest will keep your audience engaged during the presentation and help them remember key points afterwards.
  6. Use a clean, uncomplicated slide template
    There are some very slick templates out there. The problem is that busy layouts with lots of graphic bells and whistles won't add anything to the core of your content. In fact, an overly complicated template will distract your audience.
  7. Type matters
    Select clean, easy-to-read fonts. This is not the time to try and be too creative. There's a reason why the most popular fonts are ... well ... the most popular.
  8. Use color judiciously
    See the point we make above. There's a difference between adding color — discriminately — to emphasize important phrases and words, and making your presentation look like a Saturday morning cartoon (or a 1969 acid trip).
  9. Build in pauses
    This is a general presentation tip, but your PowerPoint deck can help you remember to follow it. At natural breaks or after a particularly long bit of content, insert a slide that says "Questions?" or "Key Takeaways." Use these pauses to engage with your audience; let them digest what they've just learned. A 30-, 60-, 90- or 120-minute (omg) talking head loses interest pretty quickly.
  10. Minimize the special effects
    Unless you work for Lucas Films or Disney, your presentation probably isn't the next installment of the Star Wars saga. Just because PowerPoint has added lots of cool effects over the years doesn't mean you have to use them.

PowerPoint has become a ubiquitous part of business — and life — today. (We know a middle school student who created a PowerPoint deck to convince her parents to let her go to Vermont for the weekend with her boyfriend. It was less than successful. Too bad she didn't follow these tips ...)

Just remember that even the best designed and most compelling slides are supposed to support you, not to be the main attraction. In other words, if you let them be "the less," you'll be all "the more."

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