When you need to start a PowerPoint presentation it can seem like a daunting task. Especially if the stakes are high. From pitching to new clients and presenting to your boss, to giving a speech and lecture or even presenting a school project, a lot can ride on the effectiveness of your presentation.
But relax, because we’re here to help you by nailing down the four most important things to consider when you need to start a PowerPoint presentation. Over the past two decades the team at F5 has been working with thousands of businesses, both big and small. We've helped them create engaging, informative and entertaining presentations. All that experience has been distilled into these four quick points to get you started.
If you’re building a presentation you are most probably using Microsoft PowerPoint, and that is certainly the software we most often use. However, these tips apply to all presentation programmes, such as Apple’s Keynote and Google’s Slides. No matter what you’re using, you’ll still find this post useful.
In the past 30 years software used to build presentations has changed a lot. The most recent version of Microsoft’s PowerPoint, that which you'll find in Office 365, is jam-packed with great features and tools. It is refreshingly easy to get started with.
But although the software is user-friendly straight out of the box, that doesn’t mean it is a walk in the park to start a professional looking PowerPoint presentation. With the pressure on to get it right first time, let’s get started...
When you start a new PowerPoint presentation file you’ll be presented with a stock template. Now, it might be tempting to just start with that as a base, building your slides from the blank white template. However, remember that the vast majority of other people will be doing that, resulting in a lot of similar looking presentations.
Instead, why not consider creating your own template? That might sound complicated, but a bespoke PowerPoint template will make your slides really stand out from the crowd. It could help to draw in and keep your audience's attention. Designing your own template may take more time, but it really will help, especially when tackling the next couple of points in this post.
Unique templates can be downloaded from the internet if you prefer - some for free, others for a small price. Just make sure that, if you are downloading one, you’re doing so from a trusted site. PowerPoint presentation templates are fairly simple affairs, so there isn't much chance of contracting a virus or malware. However, there are some quite poorly built ones out there. An inadequately designed template will actually limit what you can do with it, so be sure you're getting what you want and need.
Once you have your template built or installed, let’s consider colour. A palette of about three or four colours will add a lot of consistency to your PowerPoint presentation, running across all of the slides. Make sure that the colours you choose compliment each other well and don’t distract your audience by contrasting poorly.
If you work for an organisation that already has a colour palette (and the chances are they will - or rather, should), brilliant. Find out what those colours are and stick to them, using the correct hex code such as #FF0000.
If you don’t already have a palette of colours you regularly use, try the website Color Palettes to get some inspiration. They take the five main colours from different photographs to create varied palettes. They then supply the hex codes for each, allowing you to replicate it. Be careful to ensure that the colours you choose have a good degree of contrast, so they don’t all blend in together and are lost on the slides.
Text and fonts
For your on-screen text it is important to use fonts that are neat and very simple. For all sorts of PowerPoint presentations we recommend you start with no more than two different kinds. Ideally, one font for titles and headers, and another similar style for the rest of your text.
Sans serif fonts are easy to read and appear soft and pleasing when projected on a large screen. Serif fonts are also good, but are best used for larger text such as the header of a particular slide. However, be sure to test different fonts and experiment to find the ones you prefer. Different fonts might suit different presentations depending on the topic you’re covering and on your audience.
Just remember: clean and simple will always be better than lavish and complicated.
Now that you have your font chosen, try to use as little on-screen text as possible. We’ve all sat through lots of bad PowerPoint presentations in the past where the speaker has put their entire script into their slides. Too much text is distracting, and takes the focus away from where it should be: on you.
To that end, limit text to no more than six lines per slide. Sentences should be short and easy to take in and obviously you need to consider the age and ability of your audience when writing. Sentence structure for a presentation to the director of a law firm should definitely be different to one you’re giving to school kids.
However, in both of those examples, it is you who is giving the PowerPoint presentation, not your slides. The less your audience has to read, the more they’ll be listening to, and being impressed by, you.
It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of people can now spot a rubbish image a mile off. Low quality clip art, low resolution images you’ve found through Google, and dodgy smartphone photography will ruin your presentation, standing out like a sore thumb.
Using the right pictures and imagery is essential for snagging the attention and focus of your audience, setting the scene and mood while you present. Therefore, choose your images wisely and go for high quality. There are several sites that offer professional photos and images for free, but we suggest your first port of call should be Unsplash.
When picking images for your PowerPoint presentation, start by taking your existing colour palette into consideration to ensure everything still possesses a cohesion. You want the image to stand out for being a good image, not because it clashes so horrendously with the template’s background colour.
If you’re using several quite different images, one thing that will definitely help with consistency is applying a filter over all of them. Filters will give even the most different of photos a similar appearance, blending them all nicely together into your chosen theme. Software like Adobe’s Photoshop do this really well for a PowerPoint Presentation, but if you don’t have that, start by downloading a free smartphone photo editing app to your phone and running them all through there. Another good (and free) option is to download the image editing software Gimp.
Not every slide needs an image. If your text, icons, or chart is attention-grabbing enough, it’ll be enough.
At this point it might also be a good idea to pick a transition. PowerPoint comes pre-loaded with some great ways for one slide to change to the next. However, keep it simple. A different transition with each slide will, again, distract your audience from you and your content, so stick to one or two subtle styles.
General presentation tips
So, your template is selected, your colour pallet is great, and you’ve sourced some awesome images. Now we need some finishing touches.
As we said before, keep things simple. Make sure all your slides concern themselves with just one point each. Think of them as well-designed memory aides, helping you to start speaking about a certain subject during your PowerPoint presentation. They also provide your audience with an image or graphic that you wouldn’t normally be able to communicate yourself.
Don’t overload your audience with data and complex information all in one go. Take your time to be understood fully and don’t rush on to the next slide if you think your audience haven’t fully grasped what you’re saying: be prepared for questions.
Finally, be sure to end on a call to action. Don’t wrap up your PowerPoint presentation giving your audience the impression that everything is said and done once you have finished. Closing statements are so important, so make sure you make it a good one.
Ask yourself: what do I want this audience to do once I’ve finished? If you instil in them a desire to know more, both about the subject matter and about you, your PowerPoint presentation will have been a definite winner.
We can help
This post will certainly help you start, but if you feel your PowerPoint presentation needs something more, talk to us. From simple, reassuring advice to a fully interactive and professional slide deck design service, Future Present are there for you. We live and breathe PowerPoint.