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Powerpoint Tips


Techniques Public speaking > Preparing the Presentation > Powerpoint Tips

Color | Text | Bullet points | Data and charts | Diagrams | Decoration | Animation | Showing | See also


Here are a whole lot of tips and ideas to help you create a more powerful, persuasive presentation.

Ideally a slide is instantly understandable and your audience should not have to watch and wonder (if they do, they will not be listening to you).

Using color

Color can enliven presentations, highlighting key points and differentiating between different items. On the other hand, color can confuse.

The key is to use color for specific purpose. Red and yellow bring things forwards and blue and purple send them backwards, so use red, orange and yellow to highlight. Background colors should reinforce the foreground, not compete with it.

Colors can merge and contrast. Blue text on a green background can be very difficult to read. On the other hand, a single red word in an otherwise black and white slide will leap forward. Avoid too many colors as this is more likely to cause confusion.

Items which are related, but spread around the slide can be linked by painting them in the same color.

Colors also have cultural meaning: Red means danger, yellow means cowardice, etc. Be careful with this, for example white signifies purity in many cultures, but also indicates death in others.

Slide titles

Slide titles are often the largest text on the slide and are often boring and difficult to understand. It is better to use them like newspaper headlines where you can get the main meaning of the slide just by reading the title.

For some reason, some slides have huge title text that overshadows the main slide content. Try reducing the title size to increase imp

It can be effective to make slide titles impactful and meaningful rather than using them as a flag. For example, rather than having 'Strategic Implications' try something like 'If we don't change, we'll die'.

It can sometimes work to have a sequence of slides with titles that combine to form sentences and a story. For example

  • 'We had a big meeting...'
  • 'And we decided to change...'
  • 'And we saved a lot of money...'
  • 'Whilst doubling sales!'

Use of text

When you put text on a slide, people will try to read it (and in doing so will not be listening to you), so avoid a lot of text.

If the text is too small, your audience will again be unhappy. It should be clearly read from the back of the room. If you do not know the size of the room, assume it is large.

Keep the wording of text simple and in clear language, unless you are certain you are addressing experts who will expect jargon. Use unambiguous short phrases and sentences that each make a single, clear point.

When a sentence wraps across more than one lines, it increases the cognitive effort in reading it. This can be eased by keeping complete phrases on one line. The reader will pause when they move to a new line, so try to arrange the text with this natural cognitive break.

Put space between bullet points or paragraphs so each stands on its own without merging into a larger block of text.

Using bullet points

Bullet points are common on slides and are a very useful tool. They help you keep the text short and separate different points.

Do not over-do bullet points. A common wisdom is to have no more than three to five bullet points per page. Also try to keep the text from one bullet point on one line as wrapping text significantly increases the effort required to read it.

Using space

Space separates. It turns a single amorphous mass into individual elements that stand on their own. In reverse, less space between things joins, indicating association between things. Space also relaxes, letting the eye rest between things.

Separate out individual chunks that you will talk about individually. Put space between paragraphs and bullet points. And generally do not over-crowd slides. Less is often more in the way that

Data and charts

Numeric data is always good for persuasion, but too much just turns into a mass of numbers. Data can be brought to life with the use of graphs and charts that help the viewer to make sense of it.

When creating graphs, consider the following points:

  • Lines which cross can indicate significant points. Too many crossed lines rapidly creates confusion.
  • Too many lines leads to confusion as the viewers try to follow different lines.
  • Using different colors for different lines helps.
  • Make points, lines thick enough to be seen at the back of the room.
  • Use shaded areas as a metaphor for size. Lots of one color means 'big!'
  • Use the metaphor of color carefully, so red may mean bad and green may mean good.
  • Link similar items with similar colors.

Using diagrams and images

Endless text can be boring, and slides with diagrams that illustrate your meaning or a photo of the subject-matter can be helpful in bringing presentations to life.

Some people use only visuals and no words, which can be very impactful if you can pull it off. It is common, however to balance images, diagrams and words to let your audience see your key points whilst also sustaining their interest.

Decorations and embellishments

Should you use 'prettification', with such as borders, backgrounds and little cartoon figures?

This can be a very audience-dependent subject. A little embellishment can make slides more attractive, though it is easy to over-do this, trivializing your subject and distracting viewers. Many business audiences do not like decoration, though creative groups may appreciate the art. Social groups may seek entertainment and cartoons could be fun for them.

Be careful about backgrounds and they can make the main text or diagrams harder to read. If you do use them, make them very indistinct, almost like a watermark.

Animation and transitions

Powerpoint allows you to make the objects on slides appear in all sorts of ways and also to transition from one page to the next decoratively.

There is much debate about using these, but the best rule is the 'visual aid' principle: Use animations to make things easier for your audience. Making things just instantly 'appear' can confuse as people may miss it, so some movement is useful for catching the eye.

A big benefit is that animation helps the 'reading the text' problem. You can add text to a slide as you are making the point, hence limiting what the audience can read. A good way of introducing this is with a 'wipe' rather than the default 'fly in', as it is more subtle but still provides eye-catching movement. Wipes also work well with lines and arrows as you can make it appear as if the item is being 'drawn'.

For photographs and big items, movement would be alarming and a 'dissolve' often works best. For smaller object, use emphasis suited to the purpose. An important item, for example could do a 'zoom'.

Keep extreme animations to the minimum for more impact and less irritation. One place to use them is to introduce critical items as they provide additional emphasis. A time you can 'go mad' is when you want to add some humor.

Showing slides

A cardinal rule is that your slides should support your talk and not the other way around. They should enhance your talk. They should not prop it up. Slides are sometimes called presentational aids, which can be confusing as they should be there to help the audience, not just you.

The worst use of slides is simply to show them and read the text out to the audience, which is something of an insult as it implies you are not really prepared. Another point that is often forgotten is that slides should appear when they are needed and disappear when they are no longer needed. If you are going to talk for any period beyond the point where the slide is helpful to the audience, then it should be removed. A simple trick in Powerpoint is to hit the 'B' key, which blanks the screen. Another method is to put black slides in between slides that are used to support particular points. When there are things on the screen, the audience will look at them. When there is nothing, they will look at you, which is a good thing when you need them to pay attention.

See also

The Meaning of Color


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