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Don’t Make Powerpoint Pointless

June 23, 2010

We’ll start with basics first: how to avoid pitfalls; old rules that still matter; and simple tricks you may not have thought to use…

Choices Choices Everywhere! Colour Choices: Backgrounds and Text

Colour choice is one of the most basic but often misused aspects of a quality presentation. Background and text colours should not only please the eye, but they must be easy for the audience to read. To avoid eye-strain, choose medium-dark colours for backgrounds with lighter coloured text. For example, mid or medium value blue with yellow, cream or white lettering works well. Alternatively, a lighter pastel-based colour can be used effectively for backgrounds (avoid pure white) with dark blue, dark gray or black text. Sound boring? Over-used? The addition of a simple gradient will add interest, but still be clean and professional. If using photographs and/or graphics, try putting these on a simple solid black background. The audience will focus on the images and make the slides easier to see.

The alternative to setting up your own slide design is to opt for one of many pre-designed background templates provided in the Powerpoint software. These templates do save time and can add a touch of class, but be sure to employ the tried and true graphic design adage of: ‘KISS’ (Kept It Simple Silly). Again, it is all about audience eye comfort, ease of concentration and ‘read-ability’.

The ‘Goods’ on Font Styles

Font choice (or style of lettering for text) is also important. There are two types of fonts: serif and sans serif. Serifs are the little tails on the beginning and ending letter strokes; Sans serif fonts are ‘tail-less’. Many professionals use a sans serif font for headings and sub-headings while choosing a serif font for body text. Personally, we tend to use the same font family for the entire presentation, changing the size and/or colour for headings and emphasis. Also, using upper and lower case provides ease of reading for the audience (please see next point). Optimal fonts that are easy to read on the screen include: Times, Arial, Trebuchet, Book Antigua and Verdana.

Room to Breathe

One of the most basic rules of slide design is to avoid overcrowding. We used to say, ”Hold the slide at arms length. If YOU can still read the information, the back row of your audience will be able to read it on the screen” . Obviously, with digital slides, this doesn’t work any more. A good rule of thumb is to limit the lines of text to six or seven. This includes the title! We usually give titles and headers a larger font (around 44 pt.) and body text between 24 and 32 pt. Building, or adding your points on consecutive slides is an effective way to keep your slides uncluttered and to also keep your audience listening.

Studies have shown that people cannot read large quantities of text and listen at the same time. Use your slides for the main points in your presentation and verbally fill in the rest. Animation is another great way to build your points as you go along. But don’t “over do it”. Too much of a good thing can detract from your presentation. It’s better to use these methods to hightlight points rather than moving the mouse to point to specifics on slides. The audience will be disrupted and tend to focus on the arrow, rather than what you are saying… especially if you forget to move the mouse as you continue!

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