Number 6, June 2007
THE LOVING TREES NEWSLETTER
Guidelines for Effective PowerPoint Slides
The purpose of a presentation is to present information, not to show off skills with overhead slides, laser pointers, or presentation software. This includes PowerPoint, which has become increasingly common as a tool for packaging, organizing, and supporting presentations. Consider these guidelines for using PowerPoint effectively when presenting information to an audience:
1. Use titles. Titles, also referred to as “taglines,” are the brief sentences or phrases at the top of slides that summarize a slide’s message. Titles make slides easier to understand by answering the question, “What’s the purpose of this slide?” Do not force the audience to figure out the key message and do not assume the audience will hear everything you say. A title is more than a label; a title justifies the slide. Titles reinforce in writing the key messages you will share with the audience during your presentation.
2. Consider the 6 x 6 rule. A common PowerPoint error is to confuse audiences by crowding slides with text and complete paragraphs. In May of this year, I attended a talk about tax policy in forestry where the presenter copied entire paragraphs of IRS code into his PowerPoint slides. This is not a recommended strategy for holding an audience’s attention. Rather, the 6 x 6 rule says never use more than 6 lines per slide and 6 words per line. The rule forces us as presenters to boil down slides to the key, critical points and supporting facts.
3. Understand font size. Remember, the PowerPoint slides are not for you, they are for the benefit of those in the audience. It does not matter if you can read the slides; it matters that the members of the audience can read the slides. Two factors affect the size of the words on the screen. One is the size of the projected image relative to the size of the room. If you show a PowerPoint presentation at Yankee Stadium, it better be on a gigantic screen. The other is the size of the font relative to the size of the screen. When building PowerPoint slides, avoid using fonts smaller than 32 for titles (taglines) and avoid using fonts smaller than 24 for text. Font size matters.
4. Maximize contrast. Use contrasting color schemes to enhance the clarity and visibility of letters and words. This means use dark letters on light backgrounds, such as black on white, or light letters on dark backgrounds. On graphs and charts, use solid colors instead of fancy fill patterns which can blur and confuse when viewed from the back of a room.
5. Consider PowerPoint defaults. PowerPoint slides and templates automatically bullet, left justify and resize text when building presentations. In other words, prioritize content over layout, especially when time is limited, and let PowerPoint do the work for you.
Remember, PowerPoint supports your presentation; it is not the presentation itself. PowerPoint is a tool that facilitates how information is shared with an audience. Used effectively, it can help you organize material, educate audiences, and reinforce your message.
The Loving Trees Newsletter. Copyright © 2007 Brooks C Mendell. All rights reserved. We welcome sharing this newsletter in whole or in part if properly cited and attributed.