PowerPoint presentations are one of the most familiar and useful business tools: a simple and straightforward way to present data or convey information.
Unfortunately, because they are so common, they are also commonly misused. Poor design and messy visual elements can detract or distract from an otherwise informative presentation. Your visuals should clarify, not confuse. They should complement your presentation instead of distract from it.
You don't have to be a graphic design expert to use PowerPoint effectively, but it is important to know a little bit about basic design philosophy — and understand how to present data in a way that is visually compelling. Here are some basic tips and best practices about what to do (and what to avoid) if you want to create professional visual elements and design top-notch reports and presentations.
Make sure your background stays in the background: stick to plain, simple background colors and designs for your PowerPoint slides. One of the most common PowerPoint mistakes is choosing a background with a complicated pattern or a color gradient. That can be anything from a distraction to a genuine display problem. Be especially wary of backgrounds with strong color gradients that can make it impossible to pick out a contrasting text color that doesn't get washed out somewhere on the slide.
There are two broad categories of fonts: text fonts and display fonts. One of the most common PowerPoint mistakes is to use a display font. Stick to text fonts to ensure legibility at all sizes and display settings. Use consistent font styles and sizes throughout your presentation, and make sure you also have a nice high contrast between the text and the background. For example, dark blue text on a light blue background might look great on your desktop, but may become washed out and difficult to read on a projection screen.
Certain color combinations are inherently difficult to look at. Bright red next to bright blue is a big one to avoid. Also, be leery of red and green color combinations — as this is the most common form of color blindness. Because you never know what a projector will do to your colors, it's always a good idea to test out your presentation on the actual machine where you will be presenting — if at all possible. That is doubly important when color plays an integral role in your presentation. If you are presenting at Ford headquarters, for example, you'd better get the blue in that Ford logo right! Remember too, what certain colors signify for some audiences. Red numbers mean something specific to accountants, for example.
Information & imagery
Let your audience — and the purpose of the presentation — determine how much and what type of info to include on the slide. A sales meeting might be light on text and include more imagery. An educational session or a presentation to accounting, however, might be a little more text or data-heavy. Avoid complete sentences, and use text sparingly, however. As a general rule, you never want to have more than five individual pieces of information per slide. Any more than that and the audience is likely to forget by the next slide.
If you use images, don't use generic clip art or low-quality Google images. Avoid copyright issues by making sure you use royalty free images or those that you have purchased rights to (no watermarks!). Also, be consistent about the types of photos you use throughout the presentation. Going from a cartoon in one slide to a high-res image in the next can be visually and thematically jarring.
Following these basic design principles will help you create PowerPoint visuals that are a clear, consistent and compelling complement to a professional presentation. And your audience will thank you!
By Jen O'Meara, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Business Communications at Walsh College
Before joining Walsh College in 2014, Associate Professor Jen O'Meara served for seven years as the chief innovation officer for an internet start-up. She has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature, and she teaches courses at Walsh in both Communications and Business Information Technology. Walsh College offers complimentary communication workshops on Wednesday afternoons at the Troy location. Learn more at www.walshcollege.edu/success-center-events-and-programs.
Originally posted on Walsh College
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