PowerPoint 101

As we gear up for the fall conference season, I’m starting to get the sneak previews of presentations that will be used in various places.  There are a few simple rules to building good presentations, but they clearly haven’t been shared with everyone just yet.  So, as a public service, here are a few of the lessons everyone should know by now.


Colors are good.  But let’s not get garish.  Keep them muted unless you are really looking to draw attention.  Also, colors evoke emotions, and you can use that to your advantage.  If you remember nothing else, remember this:

  • Green means good.
  • Red means bad.

That first rule of finance will help keep you in line.  Even if you aren’t reporting on financial data, stay with it.  Business leaders, which hopefully means your audience, are programmed to respond in certain ways to those color.  Help them stay in the right frame of mind.


Words are bad.  Words are hard.  But most importantly, words mean reading.  And if I’m reading, I’m not listening, am I?  Don’t ask your audience to divide their attention.  Keep the words in your notes and off the screen.  OK, a few words is fine, but keep it to a minimum.

I have seen people at conferences who pick up a copy of the presentation material when they walk in the door (as is often provided), glance through the slides, realize all of the content is included, and walk out.  When you can read the notes later, why stay to have them read to you?

A good rule of thumb as a presenter is that if the slides tell the whole story, they don’t really need you.  And we all like to be needed, right?

Bullet Points

Some people will tell you they are forbidden.  I disagree on this one.  I use them for effect, but I try to limit them to two or three words each, and no more than three in a list.  Even then, they have to really mean something to make the page.  But if you remember the point above from Words, you can use them effectively to pull attention to your point.


Images evoke feelings, just like colors.  Only more.  So get good ones.  Make sure they are high quality, relevant to your point, and interesting enough to look at for a few seconds.  DON’T use grainy pictures.  DON’T use stock pictures that still have a watermark on them.  DON’T use the ubiquitous smiley faces on every slide.  Do any of those, and your audience will hate you, and you’ll look like a rube.


There’s plenty of arguments here as well.  I’ve been told twenty slides for sixty minutes is right.  I generally do double that or more.  But I move through slides quickly because I want the presentation to be visually interesting. In the end, the number of slides you use will depend on your topic and your style.  But I would have a hard time staying on one slide for more than a minute or two without feeling like I am boring the audience, unless it is a tool or technical piece I am working through and I have the audience engaged.  But if in “lecture” mode, you can bet I’ll be moving on before then.


Good animation can make the presentation less dull.  Great animation can help you make your presentation sparkle.  Bad animation can sink you.  How can you tell the difference?  If the animation draws attention to something you are saying, it is good.  If it distracts, it is bad.  If you can’t tell, you should probably do without.

What else?

I’m sure there are other great tips out there.  If you have one, feel free to share in the comments.  Together, we can stamp out bad presentations.

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