38 PowerPoint design tips

We asked our panel of experts for their tips on how to design a great PowerPoint presentation.  Here is their advice. We got a great response and have so far collected 38 PowerPoint design tips.

1. Graphics and stock photography can liven up a presentation

PowerPoint’s clip art library is useful but should be avoided. To be unique I create high quality transparent graphics that can be layered with text and shapes in PowerPoint. Typically, I create graphics in Adobe Illustrator and export them as a png with transparency at 150 dpi. With the higher resolution (screen is 72 dpi) the graphic can be scaled in PowerPoint without quality degradation.

2. Use builds and transitions


Eric Walker

Using builds and transitions is an easy way to add interest to a presentation. Rather than bring up all your content at once, use builds to introduce each item individually. Use simple builds and transitions such as fade, wipe and peek. Avoid the more distracting animations, such as zoom, boomerang or swivel. To animate several items at once, group them first. Also, add a transition between your slides, such as ‘fade through black’ or ‘wipe’.

3. Customise slide masters

Use the master slides to create a branded template for your presentation. Customise master slides using imported graphics, logos, and colours. A customised colour palette adds consistency and professionalism to the slides. Bold and dark colours are more effective than subtle colours when projecting in dark room. Add logos, date stamp, page numbers and footer information to the master slides. These elements will appear on each slide in the presentation.

Thanks to Eric Walker, Creative Director at the Davies Murphy Group (www.daviesmurphy.com)

4. Put some time aside to plan your presentation


Marshall Makstein

The most important design tip is to design some time into your schedule to develop a well-designed presentation.

PLAN your schedule so you have time to develop well-designed slides and a good flow to your story. GOOD design takes time. Throwing together some text bullet points, some charts and graphs the night before you present does not usually result in a well-designed presentation.

A well-designed PowerPoint does not must mean ‘pretty slides’, but visual aids that communicate your information effectively and make your key points memorable and actionable.

Thanks to Marshall Makstein, Meeting Communications Professional at eslide (www.eslide.com)

5. Design for interactivity

Create a menu and let the audience decide where to go.

6. It’s OK to use light backgrounds


Ellen Finkelstein

I sometimes use a black background for a slide when it’s appropriate for the content or fits my image. It gives an uncomplicated, Zen-like impression. But mostly I use white, if I don’t have a full-slide image. My reason is that white backgrounds on slides are similar to white backgrounds on websites – they make both text and images crisp and clear. They’re associated with information.

Long ago, dark backgrounds were standard. This was a carry-over from the days of physical slides, which picked up dust. The dust showed on light backgrounds, but not on dark ones. Also, projectors were weaker, so presenters needed to turn out the lights for the projection to be easily visible. In a dark room, people’s pupils opened wider and a white or light background became too bright for comfort. Now, we can usually use white backgrounds without worrying about dust or too much brightness.

Thanks to Ellen Finkelstein, Author, Publisher, Expert on AutoCAD, PowerPoint, and Presenting

7. Keep to three colours


Pam Brossman

When creating a branded ppt template keep the colours to three, based around the company brand colours. If you require other colours for charts and tables and diagrams it is best to go for darker and lighter shades of the brand colours to keep it consistent throughout the presentation.

8. Consistent fonts

Keep header fonts consistent throughout the whole presentation (headings should not be sentences but key points no longer than 3-4 words)

9. Get your bullets right

Keep bullet points two shades only –  the Header colour for the first bullet and the text colour for the second indented bullet.

Always keep the second bullet the same size font as first as this looks more professional. Indent is enough to differentiate bullet point sub-category.

10. Branding is best at the bottom

Branding is best on the bottom of a slide, keeping the rest of the slide free for charts and visual representations of the content.

11. Keep it simple, clean and consistent

Keep it simple, keep it clean, keep it consistent throughout the whole document and use lots of white space.  Then you can’t go wrong when it comes to PowerPoint design.

They are the key design tips I use to create branded templates for some of the top 100 companies in Australia which have been very successful.

Thanks to Pam Brossman, Social Media Speaker, Trainer & Consultant

12. Keep animation of workflows and processes as simple as possible


Noz Urbina

As someone who presents a lot of complex new ideas, and complex systems and workflows, to unfamiliar or mixed audiences, I find animation to be a vital tool.  It’s vital to keep animation of workflows and processes as simple as possible and keep in mind how important ‘portability’ of the slides is or isn’t – if someone needs to be able to review and understand them, then coloured boxes flying around won’t help much without the presenter.

13. Do not overlap text

Try not to overlap animated text so slides print nicely.  For ‘texty’ slides, try animating text in point-by-point while you talk. This keeps people from trying to read your slides and ties your speech in tightly, which is a best practice.

14. Taboo style delivery – read out your slides

This is a practice which completely breaks the rules, but which has won me several ‘valuable speaker’ nominations: read your slides!  When combined with bringing in content line-by-line, it’s a very powerful visual/auditory combination.  The trick is: animate in a line or two, then read it out (and keep the points short).  Then discuss for a few seconds what that point means.  Your delivery and your slides are thereby totally locked together, and you’ll never fight your slides for the attention of the audience (the most common bad practice I see).

15. Never read your notes

Print up a 3- 6- or 9-up copy and note down key points for each slide in pen.  Then just learn the rest so you can deliver while cycling eye contact around the friendliest faces in each corner of the room.

16. Images are fantastic

Try to keep your presentations one quarter images, or more, if possible.  It really doesn’t matter what they are – if you’re a photography and conceptual person, go for a photo plus a little intro at the beginning of each major section in your storyboard – which you’ve hopefully worked out – or your agenda. If you’re into diagrams and charts, do that.  Use screenshots where applicable; even a big colourful table (limit to around 4 x 8 rows) is better than slide after slide of bullets.

Thanks to Noz Urbina, Senior Consultant at content management specialists Mekon (www.mekon.com)

17. Respect the limits of working memory


Philippa Leguen

To make the most of any presenting opportunity we need to avoid overloading this working memory to give our audience the best chance of remembering our presentation.

The first step is to focus on key messages. Examine whether your content supports each message, and if it doesn’t then you probably need to ditch those slides.

18. Remove all objects that do not contribute to your message

Look at what’s on your slides, and remove all objects, pictures, animation, logos, and effects that do not contribute to your message. Such slide clutter is distracting and will overload your audience’s working memory. By sensibly reducing the volume of information, you are helping working memory to focus on what’s important and to process that information alone.

19. Address the visual and the verbal channels

By talking whilst your audience is reading the text you will overload their verbal channel, create a split attention effect, render yourself redundant and be guaranteed to lose their attention (they won’t be able to listen whilst they’re reading).

The solution is to present to the verbal and visual channel in harmony: limit your text to just your key message, narrate all your content and use properly targeted visual aids on your slides.

20. Guide your audience’s attention

Good practices include colour coding, using navigational slides, detailed headlines, simplifying a complex system or process using visuals, and not doubling up on text, narration and graphics when information is already quite simple.

21. Avoid animation

Avoid animation if it distracts from the key message (and it usually does).

22. Make the most of your headlines

The slide headline should convey a strong message. Don’t just write the subject area, e.g. ‘Sales’, instead write what you want your audience to know, e.g. ‘Our sales are struggling and we need to increase our efforts.’

The same goes for your chart titles: explain the significance of the data in the chart title area and you will help your audience to process the information more easily. Don’t leave your audience guessing.

23. Limit the volume of text on a slide

As you should always be trying to limit the volume of text on any slide, making the most of the headline in this way increases the likelihood that your audience will grasp the main point from each new slide. It will also focus their outlook on the rest of your information, since they won’t be wasting brain resources trying to decipher your point.

24. Plan your graphics scientifically

Visuals should be an important part of your strategic planning, not just something you throw in at the end for decoration. The image should tie in with your narration and headline to help the audience understand and retain each message.

Visuals should also match your presentation goal, whether to inform or motivate, to sell or persuade, or to teach procedural or problem-solving skills – each of these goals will dictate which type of graphic will work best.

Thanks to Philippa Leguen de Lacroix, Partner, Cornerstone Presentations (www.cornerstonepresentations.co.uk)

25. Adding Excel content to PowerPoint


Max McConnell

Having ‘ctrl-c copied’ your desired Excel content, *do not* ‘ctrl-v paste’ it. Instead go to Edit->Paste Special and choose ‘Picture (Enhanced Metafile)’. Then the pasted content is simple to scale to the size you want because it is now a picture. If you need to make a small edit, right click on the picture, say ‘yes’ (to converting the picture to a drawing) and then re-select the picture; now right-click and choose Group->Ungroup from the context menu.

Now you can edit anything you like. This works well for graphs pasted from Excel too, and once you are familiar with this technique, you will never need to use PowerPoint’s in-built table object – you can use Excel to produce all your tables. Remember to do all the formatting in Excel first (hint: Format->Cell->Alignment->Vertical->Center).

This method avoids Microsoft embedding your entire spreadsheet into the presentation – important if there are parts of, or content in, the spreadsheet you don’t want to share with the recipient – such as costs used to calculate prices.

Thanks to Max McConnell, Divisional Director, Prompt Communications (www.prompt-communications.com)

26. Choose a good color palette and stick to it


Rachel Solomon

Try using no more than five colours and be consistent with how you use your colour (e.g. lines should be the same colour throughout, as should titles, subtitles, etc. Be wary of gradients. If you don’t know how to use the gradient tool, practise! Try to stick to colours or shades in the same colour family when using gradients. It will look more professional.

27. Less is more

Less text paired with powerful images/graphics and a good speaker will make a great presentation. If you have more than six bullets on a slide, chances are people are not listening to you, they’re reading the slide. Leave the heavy copy for handouts.

If the animation doesn’t enhance or further the message, or is irrelevant to the slide or graphic, don’t use it.

28. Limit the logos

You don’t have to have your company logo on every slide if you have a well-branded template and corporate colour palette.

Thanks to Rachel Solomon   Principal, Vespertine Inc. – Presentation & Graphic Design (www.vespertineinc.com)

29. Display slides and leave behinds are different


Allison Begner Cole

Consider how the presentation will be used. Speaker-support presentations should not detract from the speaker, and instead should enhance and emphasize the point being made. Not everything a speaker says should be onscreen, but should instead help the speaking points to ‘stick’ in the audience’s memory.

This would contrast with a leave-behind printed ‘deck’, which should be treated like a print project (more detailed written content with supporting graphics), or a self-running show, which should be treated more like a website (moving graphics and text, visually leading the viewer to the desired conclusions).

Thanks to Allison Begner Cole (www.sandmedia.com)

30. Careful with use of video and audio

The web is brimming with video and audio clips. The temptation to stick some of these into your presentation is huge, but we recommend you proceed with caution for two reasons.

Simon Morton

Simon Morton

Context – the funny clip of the cat falling off a kitchen counter might make you chuckle at your desk but is it really helping you get your message across? We’ve all sat through presentations that were full of amusing clips but left wondering what the point of the whole exercise was. Only use video and audio if it adds to your message. If it’s only there to fill a gap or to break the ice, rethink the entire presentation.

Linking files – anyone who has created a fancy presentation only to find that the video doesn’t work on someone else’s PC will know that PowerPoint and videos is often a combination best left to those with nerves of steel. The problem is that PowerPoint only links to video clips so if you move your PowerPoint, you need to make sure you move the video file at the same time… and to the right location. Add to this the issue of video codecs and you have the potential for a right old mess… normally in front of an audience!

Good news is that there are a few workarounds available and the new PowerPoint 2010 makes life a lot simpler with embedded video files. Hurrah!

Thanks to Simon Morton , MD, Eyeful Presentations ( www.www.eyefulpresentations.co.uk)

31. Keep it simple


Jessica Pyne

Think about the key message and make sure everything on screen is complementing that. If you find yourself inserting more than five or six images on one slide, perhaps it would be better to explain these ideas in your narration instead, and use a simple diagram to represent the key message.

Over-complicated slides are more likely to distract from your point, rather than reinforce it. Stick to regular shapes and subtle animations: a small silhouette of a person moving simply across the page will look better, and more professional, than a photo dancing across.

Thanks to Jessica Pyne, Marketing Communications Assistant, M62 (www.m62.net)

32. Record your presentation


Matt Pierce

What happens if a presentation is distributed to other audiences following the original delivery?

To ensure everyone gets the same experience, whether attending the original presentation or not, presenters can record their entire presentation (slides, commentary and audience participation) as they give it, using screencasting software, which records all on-screen computer activity and accompanying voiceover. This recording can then be uploaded to a central server, hosted on a website or downloaded to a mobile device to be viewed at a later date.

Thanks to Matt Pierce, Training Manager at TechSmith (www.techsmith.com)

33. Don’t use clip art


Lee Jackson

Best advice I have is to do the slides last and keep it simple – DO NOT use clip art.

34. Beware of the template trap

People use templates that often simply don’t fit.  Plain backgrounds with big pictures and big text is often all we need.

I start with black background and go from there.

Thanks to Lee Jackson, Speaker, Author & Presentation Coach (www.cuttothechase.co.uk)

35. Use big letters

Keep the background white and use big black letters.

Let the audience see you, keep the lights on, don’t send the audience to sleep with a dark background in a dark room.

Thanks to Jean-Luc Lebrun,  Writer and Trainer of Scientists (www.scientific-writing.com)

36. Use a strong template


Sminesh Babu

I believe there are two kinds of presenters:  those who have enough vocal capability to get their message across and others who require good visual presentations.

Either way works, but somebody who wants to make a good visual presentation needs a template that can embed animations, videos and text to keep the audience interested.

Thanks to Sminesh Babu, Sr. Manager – India Sales at Harbinger Knowledge Products (www.harbingergroup.com)

37. Delete the text – Use only visuals

Joy Miller

Joy Miller

One tip I got from Seth Godin suggests that you use only visuals and pictures in your slides. Your engaging narrative, coupled with the graphics, will keep your message memorable. I tried this and it was a great success. Now, if I can help it, I leave text out – or put as a little as possible. That’s one approach!

Thanks to Joy Miller Technical Writer at Microsoft Corporation http://www.linkedin.com/pub/joy-miller/4/292/221

38. Turn the screen white

David Sadler-Smith

David Sadler-Smith

A favourite feature of mine is the ability to turn the screen white at any point during the presentation. Simply hit ‘w’ during your presentation and the screen will turn white. This gets the attention back on the presenter. Alternatively, you can hit ‘b’ and the screen will turn black. You can hit any key to return to the presentation.

Thanks to David Sadler-Smith Marketing Manager at Honeywell – Trend Controls http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-sadler-smith/16/931/4b7


Published On: 30th Nov 2009

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  1. These are some great tips on designing powerpoint presentations. One important aspect to it is consistency with your brand. If you don’t already have a corporate template, you should look to designing one.

    CGI 30 Nov at 8:49 pm
  2. Creativity! Making use of photos as backgrounds and in the slide itself keeps the audience alert. A background that is the same throughout the presentation is boring and sometimes painful for the viewers.

    Robin Coventry- MBA Marketing Management 26 Dec at 6:49 pm
  3. thanks for d great tips

    yusrie 6 Jan at 5:51 pm
  4. cool

    Laura 27 Oct at 10:34 pm
  5. I like these tips

    ????? 9 Jan at 6:59 am