Tips for the best PowerPoint presentations
When you’re designing a presentation, it’s tempting to make it as whizzy as possible. After all, PowerPoint offers plenty of fancy features, so shouldn’t you try to use them?
Actually, no – just because you can perform eye-catching tricks doesn’t mean you should. PowerPoint is a great presentation tool, but it’s too easy to go overboard by adding stuff that distracts from the message you’re trying to convey. The general principle when working with PowerPoint is definitely “less is more”.
Just because you can perform eye-catching tricks doesn’t mean you should
Let’s take an example. The act of moving from one slide to another is called a transition, and PowerPoint lets you choose from many different effects. Some of them are subtle, but many are so garish that you risk frightening your audience right out of the door. Preview them all, then pick the one that best matches the message you want to convey, your company’s image and the audience that will see the presentation.
The Transitions gallery is divided into categories called Subtle, Exciting and Dynamic Content, but you should take these labels with a pinch of salt: some of the “subtle” transitions are anything but, while some of the “exciting” ones are rather dull.
Try to avoid the more slapstick transitions, such as Wind, Airplane, Crush or Origami, which treat your slides as though they’re pieces of cloth, curtains or sheets of paper. The Honeycomb, Glitter and Vortex effects, on the other hand, might look at home on a downmarket TV game show, but not in a business presentation. Simple fades or wipes are understated, less noticeable and let your message stand out.
The transitions in the Dynamic Content category animate only the foreground objects of a slide, leaving the background static. Using these will make your presentation look more professional, since they’ll cover up any black gaps between slides and ensure that – unlike the Push, Cover and Uncover effects – any gradient fills or background pictures remain in the same place from slide to slide.
Check your options
Most transition effects have options, mainly to do with the direction of travel (from the left, from the bottom and so on). You can also change the time taken to effect the transition. Generally speaking, you’ll want transitions to take between half a second and two seconds; each effect has a preset duration that you can change.
You’ll see a preview of each effect when you pick it, but you may need to view it in the context of the whole slideshow to be sure it’s right for you. You can pick one transition effect to cover the whole show by setting it on one slide and clicking Transitions | Timing | Apply To All, or by pressing Alt+K, L.
Alternatively, you can switch to the Slide Sorter view, select all the slides and apply the transition.
If you have intermediate slides that are intended to introduce new sections in your presentation, you may want to use a different transition to indicate that a change of section is underway. You can do this by selecting only those section-heading slides in the Slide Sorter view and applying the alternative transition to them. (Remember: a transition is the effect that takes you into a slide, not out of it.)
The perils of animation
I’ve watched far too many presentations in my time that include an animation such as a spinning coin on a slide that’s supposed to illustrate corporate revenue.