6 Rules For A Beautiful PowerPoint

When you're presenting a PowerPoint should help you out, not distract your audience. Here's how to put together a great one.
June 14, 2011

When it comes to our senses, vision trumps them all. When I’m communicating to persuade, I need to get the point across as clearly as possible. If my presentation slides are cluttered or confusing, I lose my chance.

Over 400 million computers have PowerPoint installed. That’s a lot of opportunity for beautifully engaging communication. Apply these six rules for beauty to help your next presentation get your audience to act.

1. Design for the purpose

Is your presentation meant to persuade or entertain? Are you trying to impress or inform? Once you figure out the purpose of your presentation, you can find out if a formal, executive design or a lighter touch is the right one. Knowing the purpose of your presentation will help keep your imagery, templates, colors and fonts consistent with your objective.

How do you know what colors are the right ones to use? Usability studies have shown that strong use of red can cause viewers to become more excited and agitated. Blue is more calming. Yellow is for optimism. If your purpose is to get your audience excited, go with red. Delivering tough news? A blue-heavy presentation can help send a different message.

Determine how much information you’re trying to get across. If you’re giving a technical presentation, it may be appropriate to add more data and charts to your slides. Make your handout do the heavy lifting, but some additional data may be necessary. If you’re giving a presentation on marketing or leadership, the simpler the slides, the clearer the communication.

2. Pictures over words

We see presentations, we don’t read them. Using effective imagery makes your PowerPoint design more engaging. To find compelling imagery, Seth Godin suggests an advanced Flickr search “Go to advanced search, choose Creative Commons Commercial license and search away. The breadth is extraordinary, but what will amaze you is the quality.”

Using images with minimal words can help craft an emotional response to your presentation. It can also keep the focus on you and your story. Consider stock photography websites, Flickr and photographs from your company’s own creative department to help you communicate your story more effectively.

3. Clutter free is the way to be

Pull out any information that does not directly communicate your message. You’re there to present, not talk them through lots of information on each slide. Put spreadsheets in the handout, not on the screen.


“When you overload your audience, you shut down the dialogue that's an important part of decision-making,"says PowerPoint expert Cliff Atkinson. "When you remove interesting but irrelevant words and pictures from a screen, you can increase the audience's ability to remember the information by 189 percent and the ability to apply the information by 109 percent."

 

Help your audience remember and apply your information by remembering the following tips:

  • Excluding any corporate logos or design element, use no more than one graphic image or chart per slide.
  • Use white space generously. White space sets the tone of your design and affects the usability dramatically. White space around the biggest items on the slide can convey elegance. The more white space, the more impactful your message.
  • Distracting transitions can detract from your message by making you look amateur. Stick to the basics when it comes to transitions between slides.

A good way to keep yourself in line is by remembering the 666 rule. Presentation University recommends slides shave no more than 6 words per bullet, 6 bullets per image, and 6 word slides in a row. 

4. Be consistent

Use the same colors, imagery style and fonts throughout your presentation. To help keep the focus on you and your story, use no more than two font families.

Templates can help you maintain a consistent look. You can either create your own template or find one online to suit your purpose. Be warned, some templates are so busy, they can detract from your message. 

5. PowerPoint is a tool

Powerpoint isn’t you, it’s just  a tool you use  to get your point across. Remembering this is key in successful Powerpoint design. Use the slides in your presentation to highlight and emphasize key points but remember that you’re the one telling the story. 

6. Surprise

Memorable PowerPoint presentations use the power of surprise to go beyond the unexpected. This element of surprise can be used to entertain your audience. If you want your business to stand out, don't copy all the other presentations. You need to go beyond the expected.

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive say, “If we want to motivate people to pay attention we should seize the power of big surprises.” They recommend building beautiful and memorable presentations by breaking patterns, creating mystery, building unique stories, and finding knowledge gaps. Exploiting the unexpected can create attention.

Want more information about Powerpoint? Resources abound.

  • The Powerpoint blog has examples and insight to help your presentations shine.