Pump Up Your PowerPoints – Tweaks


The mere mention of PowerPoint presentations can elicit audience reactions that range from eye rolls to heavy sighs to outright yawns. This form of communication has gotten a bad rap, been ear-marked as exhausting, and labeled as painful to sit through. While this could be based on the information, it’s most likely the result of how that information is presented. Think of the last painful PowerPoint you sat through and answer these questions:

  • Was it difficult to read the text from where you were sitting?
  • Were you reading more than listening to the presenter?
  • Did you ever get lost or confused about what data the presenter was showing?
  • Did your eyes hurt by the end of the presentation?
  • Did you forget some of the information discussed throughout?
  • Did you leave the presentation exhausted or with a headache?

If you answered yes to those questions, I’m sorry, you sat through a PowerPoint that could’ve been better had the presenter known how to present the information in a way that didn’t induce suffering. But that is not the application’s fault, and PowerPoint presentations don’t have to be that way. A few tweaks can take your next presentation from painful to purposeful, or even, dare I say, powerful.

  • Declutter your slide space

Slides do not need to contain every single point, chart, table, infographic, and image associated with the information being presented. It’s difficult for your audience to process that much information all at once and it takes their focus away from you, the presenter.

Draw them into what you’re saying by removing all the unnecessary content. Be ruthless with that delete button. Ask yourself, “Does this absolutely have to be here for the audience to get it?” If not, get it off that slide.

  • Use big pictures and few words

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? People process images quicker and retain that information easier, so make the images you choose work for you. Find an image that conveys your message and make it as big as possible.

Use a few meaningful words instead of full sentences to help usher your message and make it so your audience can’t miss them. The combination of 40-pt keywords displayed alongside a purposeful full-screen image will create a longer-lasting impression than six bulleted sentences on a slide.

  • Unify text and images

I don’t know when it was declared that text and images should never touch in PowerPoint, but that unspoken, and yet commonly observed, law is wrong or at least outdated. Layer your text and images to show your audience that they relate to each other.

If readability is an issue, use the transparency settings to lighten or darken the fill of the text box. Amp up the visual appeal; your audience will appreciate it.

  • Use slide titles to give them a clue

Treat slide titles like blog or article headlines. Give your audience an idea about what they’re going to hear. Were results good or bad? Were outcomes expected, unexpected, or possibly unprecedented?

Titles can provide the audience with clues to the conclusion you want them to draw.

  • Don’t dump the data

Don’t present all your data all at once. It’s overwhelming, and your audience can easily get confused about which data set you’re referencing. Hide that data until it’s time to discuss it and then visually focus your audience’s attention using callouts and arrows.

  • Date it

If you are presenting specific dates, such as due dates or annual events, provide the audience with a visual. Display a calendar with the relevant dates highlighted. Your audience is trying to envision dates; make it easy for them.

  • Lose the logo

I know this idea could be somewhat controversial as companies love their logos…and should after the time and budget devoted to them. However, if you are presenting to an internal audience, logos simply add clutter to slides without adding any real value. Include the company logo on the first and last slides, and let the remaining slides where you’re presenting the information breathe a little.

  • Stark white is out

Stark white backgrounds, while lacking any visual interest, can actually cause your audience a good deal of discomfort. The bright light can produce serious eye strain when the presentation is projected through LCD screens; this intensifies if surrounding lights are dimmed. If your audience is sitting in a dimmed room with stark bright light projected from an LCD screen for an hour, there’s a good chance they’re walking away with a headache.

An easy way to get around this issue is to flip your color combinations. Instead of dark text on a light background, try light text on a dark background. If that’s too big of a change, try adjusting your white background to a light gray or ivory. You’ll need to address any images with white backgrounds but that’s a small price to pay for your audience’s comfort.

  • Consistency in visuals is key

PowerPoint allows you to use icons, photographs, and illustrations throughout your presentation, but you don’t have to use them all at once. Select the type that will have the most impact for a particular slide and go with that one. Mixing and matching can look unnecessarily busy and even distracting.

Ensure your visuals have a consistent feel to them, even if that requires cropping, overlays, masking, or another type of visual manipulation.

  • Lose irrelevant details, add relevant images

Remove all irrelevant text from slides and use visuals to state the point of the slide. Not just any visual will work though. Evaluate whether your visual contains details that are not relevant to the point of the slide and replace it with one that conveys your point.

If you’re talking about document review, a scientist examining a specimen does speak to review but has nothing to do with documentation. Find images that speak your message.

Backing it up with Brain Science

It’s easy to state 10 tweaks and claim they will forever change the way you create PowerPoints, and while these tweaks mostly mentioned cut-throat editing and image presentation, they do have some science backing them up.

Science has consistently shown that people remember pictures better than words. This has to do with the fact that images help to speed up processing because, while words are processed by our short-term memory, images go straight into long-term memory. That’s partially because 50% of the cortex, the largest part of our brain and the portion that deals with information processing, is dedicated to visual processing.

So, if you’re thinking I’m simply telling you to delete your text and just add some pretty pictures with these tweak suggestions, I assure you, there is some sound reasoning at work. Try them out and see what your audience thinks of your newly pumped up PowerPoint.

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