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10 Rules for Smart-Looking Presentations

Mom always said not to judge a book by its cover, but the fact remains that most folks are going to judge the quality of your presentation by the quality of your visuals. If you can't assemble a great PowerPoint slideshow, your employees, partners, or investors will get hung up on graphical glitches and pay little attention to what you're saying.

You don't have to be Picasso with PowerPoint, but knowing some basic design rules will definitely help. For the most part, all the important rules follow from the two key principles of consistency (from slide to slide and across your text and graphics) and readability (so it's easy on the eyes no matter where in the room someone is sitting).

Recently, I ran across this excellent set of PowerPoint tips on SlideShare:

You should definitely flip through the 57 slides for some easy and actionable advice, most of which is more particular examples of my consistency and readability mantra. If you're looking for a few quick takeaways, though, here are ten points from the slideshow worth remembering:
  • Use thicker lines for visibility
  • Use the same line width everywhere in your presentation or it looks like a ransom note
  • Use shapes instead of lines for readability and visual interest
  • Line everything up on a grid
  • Use size to convey importance; don't vary box sizes just to accommodate larger text labels
  • Don't spam the slide with lots of different graphic styles
  • Don't use more than three unique colors
  • Use primary colors
  • Use bright backgrounds -- don't put text or graphics against grey or black
  • Don't use very similar colors -- they all look the same on a projector
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