5 Ways to Build a Better PowerPoint Presentation

Last Updated Mar 28, 2011 12:31 AM EDT

It takes a unique skill set to make a compelling and visually engaging presentation. Even if you believe you're a great public speaker or a fine writer (and beware: 94 percent of college professors believe they are above average), making a killer PowerPoint deck taps into completely different talents. With that in mind, I've pulled together a broad array of tips to help you hone your next presentation.

Use a template everyone hasn't seen before. I can count on one hand the number of templates which come with PowerPoint that I'd be caught dead using in front of a crowd. It's better to find a new template in the wild. There are hundreds of professionally crafted PowerPoint templates online ready for picking.

Avoid transitions and animations. Sometimes a well-placed animation can help you get from one idea to the next or to move your presentation along. But most of the time, they look cheap, goofy, or corny. Your audience should be allowed to focus on your ideas, not be reminded that they're watching a PowerPoint presentation.

The fewer the words, the better. Each slide should be about a single concept and use the fewest words possible. Don't fall into the trap of pasting entire paragraphs of text into a slide and then reading off the screen. The slide should highlight your key points and anchor your presentation, not be a teleprompter.

Make the presentation visible from the back of the room. Even a moderately sized conference room can turn a PowerPoint with a 20-point font into an eye test that your attendees can fail. It's a great idea to test your presentation from the back of the actual room you're presenting in to see if the slides are legible. You don't have to do this every time, of course; once you do this once or twice, you'll get a really good idea of who big your text needs to be to work in a variety of venues.

Share the slides. After the presentation is over, send the deck to your attendees, and be sure to include your contact information on the first or last slide. That way, if the deck gets shared and separated from your original e-mail, people still have a way to follow-up with you. And the first part is important: Wait until the presentation is over before sharing the slides. Otherwise, people might be distracted by scrolling through the deck when they should be listening to you.

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