8 Tips for Better PowerPoint Presentations

I have been giving (and seeing) a lot of presentations at work recently. Here are some tips that I’ve learned that, hopefully, can help you when you go to make and give a PowerPoint presentation.


1. PowerPoint is not the presentation

The number one mistake I see people make is using the PowerPoint as a crutch, literally putting their script on every slide, and then reading from it word-for-word. The mistake isn’t just about words on slides, it’s the approach to presentations. Think about how you would deliver a presentation without the PowerPoint, then think about what information you cannot effectively deliver without a visual aid: relevant images, charts, graphs, quotes. PowerPoint is a presentation tool, and it can be a valuable tool when you use it to support your speech, but it can be an albatross around your neck if you put your whole presentation onto your slides.

2. Don’t use the built-in templates

Many people see the built-in templates as a quick and easy way to add flare and color to a presentation, but they also look bad, and worse, can distract from the content of your presentation. Make your own design. Keep it simple. I always want the focus of my presentation to be on the content on the slides, not a flashy background or graphic that contributes nothing to a discussion about my work.

3. Minimize text on slides

There are a lot of rules on the Internet where people try to put a word limit on slides. That’s all great in theory, but the reality is that in the real world, and especially my field (healthcare), you often can’t avoid some wordy slides. Honestly, some lengthy slides are ok, but only if you use them sparingly. IF your whole presentation is dense paragraphs or long lists then you need to go to reread #1 on this list and rethink your presentation. This can be a tough one, but remember you can use the “Notes” section in PowerPoint, and try to break up information onto multiple slides instead of packing it into one long, boring slide.

4. Use visual information

I love using visual information and data in my presentations. Try to keep graphics simple, and relevant to your topic. Creating good visual information is a lot harder than people realize. Don’t make your visuals too complex. Try to keep it simple enough that it adds to your audience’s understanding on the topic without you having to explain too much. Edward Tufte is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve their skills in creating information graphics and data visualizations.

5. Use quality photos and graphics

Quality matters. Avoid Clip Art and the graphing tools built into PowerPoint. For photos, I Google what I need, and then select “Labeled for reuse”, which is under “Search Tools” and then “Usage Rights.” I also use Wikimedia Commons and Gratisography for photos free of copyright restrictions. For vector graphics I like Vecteezy, and for maps FreeVectorMaps.com. There are a lot of free resources out there. Invest a little time searching for quality content. It will make a huge difference in your presentation.

6. Avoid over-animating

In fact, you should probably just avoid animation all-together, but it can be ok if it is a small, subtle part of your presentation. I don’t see many people using transitions or animations anymore, but there are still people who have words and graphics flying all around their slides. I rarely use animation, but I will occasionally use it. For example, if I have a list of information on a slide I might have each bullet point fade in individually so that I am not throwing the whole list at the audience all at once. They can see the progression as I work through the presentation, but that’s about it for animation.

7. Not every idea needs a slide

You probably won’t have time to speak about every detail of your topic. Think about what is important enough for you to discuss, and then put the main points onto slides. This goes for visual information as well. Don’t just add things for the sake of adding them. Plan your presentation, and ensure that the slideset that you create supports your main ideas.

8. It’s about you

When you get up in front of an audience, or login for a webinar, it’s about you. How are you presenting yourself and your material? Remember, the PowerPoint is there to help you, not be your crutch. It’s your job to give the presentation.

Example PowerPoint Presentation

Here is a presentation that I gave in January 2016 to the Association of Immunization Managers (AIM) on the social media activities of the Philadelphia Immunization Program.