4 tips for simplifying your PowerPoint presentations
You’ve probably had this happen to you before. You’re attending a class, conference or meeting. When you get there, you take your seat, the speaker puts their PowerPoint up on the screen, and AARGH! The text is so small and dense that you can’t even read it. What’s more, you realize that you’re trying so hard to make out the words on the screen that you’re paying no attention to what the speaker is saying.
We tend to forget that a PowerPoint presentation is supposed to be a visual aid. It’s the equivalent of a blackboard, projector or poster. There’s no need to write everything you’re going to say on a PowerPoint. Its purpose is to draw the audience’s attention; it shouldn’t become a source of distraction. So how do we create effective presentations?
In this post, I summarize the major tips I’ve been able to glean from the Internet and provide a few references for those of you who want to find out more.
One slide, one idea
One way to cut back the clutter is to treat every slide in a presentation like a paragraph in a text. Each slide should present only one main idea, and this main idea can be broken down into three to five points at most. It’s a good way to zero in on what’s important.
The “5 × 6 = 30” rule
As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the problems in PowerPoint is the font size. The more text you have on a slide, the smaller the characters will be. If the text is too small, then there’s too much of it. So if you’re wondering whether you need to do some more pruning, the font size can be a good indicator. For those of you who like math, here’s a rule I came across in my reading and that I’ve adapted for you below:
- 5 points per slide
- 6 words per point
- 30-point font size
Five and six are your ideal maximum allowable limits. But you can consider 30 a good average to shoot for. For example, you could have a title in a size 32 font and a bulleted list in size 28. Also, there’s nothing to stop you from going higher than 30, but ideally, you shouldn’t fall too far below that threshold. Bear in mind, too, that sans serif fonts, such as Calibri and Arial, are easier to read on a screen than are other fonts.
As little distraction as possible
Another way to make your PowerPoint presentation more effective is to simplify the content. Depending on the type of presentation, certain elements may cause some people to tune out. For instance, it’s easy to forget about that new employee or that colleague who is colour blind. You have to adapt the presentation to your target audience and make sure it’s easy to read and understand.
Here are some issues that can make a presentation cumbersome:
- lack of uniformity
- complex statistics
- acronyms (if not defined)
- technical terms (if not defined)
- dizzying transitions and animations
- colours that clash or are hard to distinguish
A supporting document
Is some essential information just impossible to sum up in few words? Then why not use a supporting document? A separate document can be a good way to communicate all the important information without cluttering up your PowerPoint presentation. It can be a particularly good idea if you’re presenting a budget, detailing recommendations or developing course notes. If the context allows, you’ll want to wait until the end of the presentation before sending out a supporting document, though. Otherwise your audience will read it instead of listening to you.
With such a pared-down PowerPoint, you may feel a little exposed. Your audience will have eyes—and especially ears—for you only! While all this attention can make some people more confident, it may leave others feeling more nervous. No matter how you respond, it’s always a good idea to practise beforehand, if possible in front of someone who’ll be able to give you feedback.
Have you tried some of these tips or used a few of your own? Did they make a difference to your audience? Please leave me a comment and tell me about it!
- Canada School of Public Service. Building Your Presentation (TRN104) (online course for public servants only).
- “10 conseils pour votre présentation PowerPoint” (in French only). (2020, February 28). Le Parisien.
- Schmaltz, Rodney M., and Richard Enström. (2014, October 8). “Death to weak PowerPoint: Strategies to create effective visual presentations.” Frontiers in Psychology.
Translated by Nicholas Vaughan, Language Portal of Canada
The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.
Leave a comment
Please consult the “Comments and interaction” section on the Canada.ca Terms and conditions page before adding your comment. The Language Portal of Canada reviews comments before they’re posted. We reserve the right to edit, refuse or remove any question or comment that violates these commenting guidelines.
By submitting a comment, you permanently waive your moral rights, which means that you give the Government of Canada permission to use, reproduce, edit and share your comment royalty-free, in whole or in part, in any manner it chooses. You also confirm that nothing in your comment infringes third party rights (for example, the use of a text from a third party without his or her permission).
Join in the conversation and share your comments!
Comments are displayed in the language they were submitted.