Designing effective presentations with PowerPoint 2010

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1 Designing effective presentations with PowerPoint 2010 A presentation is your chance to get your message across to educate, persuade, illuminate or inspire. The last thing you want is for your audience to suffer death by PowerPoint. This note covers tips for designing a presentation your audience will remember for the right reasons. Simple is best Simplicity is the first rule of slide design. There is a tendency to try to put too much on a slide bullet points, pictures, fussy charts. With PowerPoint, as with most things, simple is indeed best. Your audience has come to listen to you, not read through a lot of slides, so Have lots of white space Limit the text drastically! Only use images and charts that aid understanding don t put them in to fill up the slide Communicate only the most important information the rest can go in handouts if necessary Creating your design Your presentation needs a look. PowerPoint comes with a whole range of built-in designs you ll find them in the Themes gallery on the Design tab. However, remember that the audience will know a built-in design when they see it, so it s worth creating something more unusual. If you don t want to start from scratch, pick a theme you like, and then customise it with different colours, fonts and backgrounds. Note: Even if you have created a blank presentation, you are still using a theme the Office Theme. Using colour Colour is an important part of your design. Colour can provoke an emotional response. For example, cool colours have a calming effect, while warm colours create excitement. While you don t need to be an expert in colour theory, knowing a bit about it can increase your presentation s impact; how do you react to the colour red, for example? For information on colour theory, see worqx.com ( Designing effective presentations with PowerPoint 2010 If you require this document in an alternative format, such as larger print, please

2 In general, use cool colours for backgrounds, and warm ones for foreground objects. Avoid unusual colour schemes which may lead your audience to focus on the colours rather than the content, and always make sure there is sufficient contrast between the foreground and background. Many of PowerPoint s themes have dark backgrounds with light text. While this can work well for publicity-type presentations a self-running show at a conference, for example it isn t so good for presenting live. In this case, dark text on a light background works best, particularly for people with visual disabilities. Accessibility should always be an important consideration in your design. Each theme (including the blank presentation) comes with a palette of standard colours. To see the palette, on the Design tab, click on Colors in the Themes group. Run your cursor over the palettes to see how your presentation changes, then choose the colour scheme you prefer. You can even create your own set of custom colours by selecting Create New Theme Colors. If you are using a light background for your content, you can still have a dark background for your Title and Section Header slides. The Title slide will set the tone for the presentation, so it s worth spending a bit of time on it. Always pull through colours from the Title slide into the content slides to give consistency to the presentation. Choosing a font The fonts you use convey a message; therefore make sure the message is in keeping with the content. Comic Sans, for example, is only suitable for something fun or informal. For a professional look, stick to fonts such as Arial or Helvetica. These are san-serif fonts, i.e. they don t have the details on the end of strokes called serifs that you find in fonts such as Times New Roman. This makes them crisp and clear, as well as easier to read on a computer screen. If you like the look of a theme, but don t like the fonts, you can choose another set from the Fonts list in the Themes group. The top entry is the font used in the title placeholder; the bottom is for the content. Don t use more than two different fonts on a slide it makes it look messy. If you want to change the font type for the title or content placeholders, do this through the Slide Master, not by changing it on the slide itself. Click on the View tab and on Slide Master in the Master Views group. To change the font on all slide layouts, click on the Slide Master at the top of the pane, then select the placeholder and choose your font. To make changes to an individual slide layout, such as the Title or Section Header, click on the appropriate thumbnail. Whatever changes you make, make sure that text is big enough to read from the back of a room. As a guide, the minimum font size to meet accessibility requirements is 28 point. IS Skills Development 2

3 Note: If you are using a custom font, remember to embed it in your presentation the machine you present on may not have the font installed. To do this, click on File and select Save As. Click on Tools at the bottom of the dialog box, select Save Options and click Embed fonts in the file. (You can also click File, select Options and Save, then select Embed fonts in the file.) Working with text When entering your text, as a general rule, DON T USE UPPER CASE. Upper case is harder to read. It is also the visual equivalent of shouting. If you use a lot of upper case, your audience is likely to feel uncomfortable, though they may not know why. Also, when writing titles, stick to sentence case (capitals at the beginning of sentences only) rather than capitalising every word. If you want to format text with italics, limit how much you use. Italics can be difficult to read on computer and projection screens, particularly for people with dyslexia. Bullets or no bullets Text specifically bullet points is the most common form of content in PowerPoint presentations. When you create a new slide, the first layout on the list after the Title Slide is Title and Content, with the default of bullet point text. However, a screen full of text is boring. Remember that there is a limit to what people can absorb at one time (cognitive load, that is, the load on working memory). Also, your audience can t read the slides and listen to you at the same time and you want them to hear what you are saying. Strictly limit how much text you put on a slide try not using bullet points at all. It is easier to remember something if you can relate text to a visual a picture, for example so use strong key words and phrases along with an image that reinforces your message. Which is more engaging? IS Skills Development 3

4 Also, try drawing people in with questions and incomplete statements. In this example, the audience will have to listen to find out what makes a great presenter, not just read the slide. If you have a lot of information to communicate, create detailed handouts rather than simply printing out your slides. It relieves the pressure to try to put everything into the presentation. If you really can t do without bullet points, keep them to a minimum; five or six is enough. Don t use full sentences bullet points should be prompts only and always include keywords. Consider creating a title that is a statement, as in this example; then use the body of the slide to back up the statement. Try to write the heading as a complete sentence with subject and verb, and use the active voice. This approach is more effective in improving audience recall, particularly if there is an image as reinforcement. When working on a presentation, most people start by creating the slide. Try starting with the Notes pane instead. Writing the speaker notes first helps identify the critical information, and makes it easier to decide what to put on the slide and what to leave out. Text alignment and layout For Title placeholders, and also text boxes you have inserted, try using a left rather than centre alignment. The hard edge improves readability, and makes the slide look more professional. IS Skills Development 4

5 This Looks stronger than this Also, leave lots of white space around your text it will give your slide a nice clean look. If you are changing the location or alignment of placeholders, remember to do it on the Slide Master and not the slide. Using images, charts and diagrams Choosing images The value of using images has been mentioned in the section on text, above. However, be careful what images you select. If you can, avoid the clip art included with PowerPoint (Insert tab Clip Art). Images from the Illustrations category are mostly cartoons or line drawings and are unsuitable for a business presentation. The Photographs category is a better option; however, watch out for overused or clichéd images, for example, the group of business people on a white background that appears in so many presentations. For something more original, try some of the stock photography websites. You can download professional photos free from sites such as flickrcc ( and Stock.XCHNG ( If you have a budget, try istockphoto ( Remember that the images you use should explain what you are talking about. Don t use pictures to simply fill spaces on a slide. This will actually lessen your audience s recall, not improve it, since it diverts attention from the message. Using effects Sometimes images do not sit well on a slide a hard edge can look clumsy, or perhaps the image s background colour clashes with the slide background. Try blending an image in by softening the edges. On the Picture Tools Format tab, select Picture Effects in the Picture Styles group and choose Soft Edges. If there is a strong contrast between foreground and background, removing the image s background works well. Click on Remove Background in the Adjust group and drag the box to include or exclude more of the image. You can also mark specific areas to keep or remove. Click the option, hold down the mouse button and drag across the area. IS Skills Development 5

6 If you want to put text on top of an image, fade out the image by selecting Color in the Adjust group and trying a Recolor option Washout, for example. If the text is still difficult to read, or the effect doesn t work well, add a fill to the text box (Drawing Tools Format tab Shape Fill), or place a solid rectangle behind it. Strong coloured bands can be effective and dramatic, such as in this example. If you can t get the faded effect you want using the Corrections or Color options, try this. Draw a shape the same size as the image, then copy the image. Click on the shape, then on the Drawing Tools Format tab, open the Shape Styles dialog box. In the Fill panel, select Picture or texture fill then click on Clipboard. Drag the Transparency slider till you get the effect you want. Finally, click on Line Color in the panel on the left, select No line and click Close. If you want to use an image as the background to all your slides, set it up on the Slide Master (View tab Slide Master) rather than on the slides themselves. If you have a file you want to use, click on Background Styles in the Background group, and select Format Background. Select Picture or texture fill, click on File and browse for your image. Remember that a background image impacts on readability, so check that text is still clear. Charts and diagrams Charts and diagrams can get your message across much more effectively than words alone. Charts have much more impact than figures in a table. If you have a lot of data, your audience may not be able to read and absorb the figures easily, and it s difficult to point out trends. If your audience will need to have the figures, you can include them in a handout. Click on the Insert tab and on Chart to see the range of charts available. Use the most appropriate chart for the data, for example, pie charts for percentages, bar or column charts to compare quantities, line charts to demonstrate trends. If you think your choice of chart is wrong, click on Change Chart Type on the Chart Tools Design tab to try another. Always keep charts clean and clear. Avoid gridlines, labels and 3D effects, which make it harder to see and understand the data. Use diagrams to communicate an idea, process or concept. For professional-looking diagrams, click on Insert and SmartArt to choose from a wide range of layouts. IS Skills Development 6

7 Rather than this Try this If you can t find a SmartArt graphic that suits, you can create your own. For example, SmartArt doesn t include a flowchart process diagram, but you will find flowchart shapes and connectors in Shapes on the Insert tab. You can also convert a SmartArt diagram to shapes (SmartArt Tools Design tab Convert), so that you can make your own changes. Animating effectively Like charts, animation can be useful for illustrating points and describing processes. However, it is another of PowerPoint s functions that should be used with care. Keep effects subtle and don t use animation on every slide your audience will tire of it very quickly. A simple and effective use of animation is displaying bullet points one at a time. This prevents your audience reading ahead and keeps them focused on the current topic. Click on the Animations tab and choose from the Animations gallery. There are four effect categories effects: Entrance, Emphasis, Exit and Motion Paths. These refer to the point at which an animation occurs. To bring on bullet point text, use an Entrance effect. Use Effect Options to control the animation s direction and sequence. Be careful what effect you choose Fly In, for example, is not as good as Fade. It is difficult to read text while it is moving, so your audience will wait till it stops. They are therefore watching the screen for longer, and are not paying attention to what you are saying. An effective technique to use with bullet points is to fade out the previous point when you bring up the next. To do this, apply your custom animation effect to the bullet point placeholder and click on Animation Pane. Click on the down arrow at the effect and select Effect Options. In After animation, click on the down arrow and choose a colour to fade the text to. IS Skills Development 7

8 Whatever effect you use for your bullet points, keep it consistent use the same effect throughout the presentation. Animation is also very effective with diagrams. For example, if you are explaining a process, apply an animation effect to your SmartArt diagram or your shapes to bring up a section at a time to talk about. You can also illustrate diagrams and pictures with animated arrows and callouts. Using audio and video PowerPoint allows you to play audio and video clips as part of the presentation. Video clips can be used to illustrate points, and generate interest. Include them at points where you think the audience s attention is likely to be flagging. To add a movie clip, click on the Insert tab and on Video. Beware of Clip Art Video the clips are animated GIFs which are not appropriate for business presentations. You can also include a YouTube video in your presentation. First, locate the clip in YouTube, click on Share, then Embed. In the options below the box, select Use old embed code and copy the code. In PowerPoint, click on the Insert tab and on Video, then select Video from Web Site and paste in the code. Note that this does not embed the video you will still need an internet connection to play it. You can set other options for your clip on the Video Tools tabs. For example, on Playback, select Play Full Screen, or click Loop Until Stopped to keep the clip running continuously until you stop it. You can also remove frames from the beginning and end of the clip with Trim Video. If you are adding sound, don t be tempted to use the sound effects that come with PowerPoint such as applause, trumpet etc. Your audience simply won t take you seriously. Presenting with style Here are a few tips for a polished performance. Hide the cursor If you use a mouse to advance your slides, moving the mouse will cause the cursor to appear on screen. To hide it, start your slide show then press Ctrl-H. If you do need the cursor during the show, press Ctrl-A to display it again. Avoid the right-click menu If you use the mouse to advance your slides, it is natural to want to use it to go back as well. However, if you right-click, PowerPoint displays a menu. You can set up your presentation so that the menu does not appear. Click on the File tab and select Options. In the panel on the left, select Advanced. In the Slide Show section, deselect Show menu on right mouse click and click OK. You can also use the keyboard to navigate: press N to move to the next slide, and P to the previous. IS Skills Development 8

9 Blank out the screen If you want the audience to focus on you rather than the presentation during a discussion session, for example, or if you think you have lost their attention you can blank the screen. This is also a good way to signal the start of a new topic. Press B to blank to a black screen. Press B again to return to the presentation. If you want a white screen, press W. Open the presentation in slide show view If your audience is already in the room, you don t want to make them sit through you starting up PowerPoint and opening the file. If you save your file as a PowerPoint Show, you can double-click the file to open automatically in slide show view. To save the file, click on the File tab and select Save As. In Save as type, choose PowerPoint Show. Your file will save with the extension.ppsx. Hide slides you don t want to show If you are delivering a shortened version of your presentation, hide slides rather than skip over them during the presentation. To hide, right-click on the slide you don t want to display and choose Hide Slide. IS Skills Development 9

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