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PowerPoint is used everywhere. You can’t escape it, even if you try. But despite its widespread use, a lot can go wrong with even the simplest aspects of the tool – and it can cause frustration like no other. For the more casual users out there, here are a few pointers to help make your presentations tidier and more successful.

1) Make a plan

Your audience, no matter how interested in your topic, has a limited attention span. Before you even begin, have a plan on where you want to take your subject. Set up a roadmap. Plot out your speaker notes to guide where you want to elaborate versus where you can keep it brief.

2) Don’t cram too much on any one slide

A common problem I encounter is that people want to pack as much information as possible onto each slide. Try to keep the message on each slide as high-level as possible so the slides don’t become too cluttered. You can move more detailed information down to the speaker notes area, or spread out the information across multiple slides if it’s important for the audience to see it. People may be reading your slides from across a large, crowded room. Extensive charts and data with tiny footnotes will be hard on the eyes if not impossible to read altogether.

If the presentation will be read without a speaker, then you can use more slide space for the information, but consider changing tools entirely if that’s the case. Sway or SlideShare are both great options for unguided presentations.

3) Give us a break!

Think about the visual structure and cues you want to implement. Break up your information into chapters and separate them with picture slides that are airy and easy on the eyes. These slides act as “rest stops” for your audience, so that even if you have to have a lot of data, your viewer(s) get a break now and then.

4) Keep it in the family

Stick to a limited, harmonious colour palette. Using too many different colours is distracting – it muddies your message and makes your audience’s eyes hurt. It may also cheapen your brand’s look. If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to consult with a graphic designer, check out Colour Lovers to find or create some snazzy, cool colour options.

5) Fonts – it’s good to be common

Another big stumbling point for PowerPoint users are fonts. Fonts are vital, so choose them carefully! I recommend going with a common font. Even though there are plenty of unique fonts out there, PowerPoint presentations aren’t necessarily the best place to showcase them due to technical reasons. The device on which you run your presentation may not have that same font. Windows allows you to package your font into a presentation, but iOS does not. If your font isn’t installed/supported/packaged, then a default font will be used instead, which might make a mess of your careful layouts.

6) You don’t always need more cowbell

When implementing the built-in animations or other bells and whistles available in PowerPoint, proceed with caution. These features are easily overused and can make timing and consistency more of an issue in your presentation. If you use slide transitions, I encourage you to be consistent and use the same one on every slide so as not to distract from your message. The same thing goes for special effects on images or text: don’t go over the top. Tone it down, dial it back, don’t go overboard. You want people to be able to read the content on your slide, not feel like they’re in a carnival funhouse.

7) Test before you go live

Now, here’s something that often comes up: compatibility issues. The fonts are just the tip of the iceberg for this topic. Even though Microsoft has versions of PowerPoint for both Mac and Windows, there are plenty of bugs when switching between the two environments. iOS doesn’t support a lot of stuff happening in PowerPoint that works just fine in a Windows environment. This can cause endless frustration or sink a presentation entirely. To avoid any compatibility-related hiccups, I recommend testing your presentation on the equipment you’ll be using in advance. Sometimes this isn’t possible, I know, but that’s why keeping things simple (not bland, mind you – just not fussy!) will help you minimise bugs and undesired visual issues when you go live with your presentation.

These are just a few things to keep in mind to make your presentations more effective. If you need more advice, just get in touch and we’ll be happy to help out.

Thinking about adding an infographic to your presentation? Check out “What makes a good infographic, and when to use one?” for some more great tips!