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10 Pro Tips to Design a Good PowerPoint (That Doesn't Suck)

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Over the years, PowerPoint has gained a bad reputation and there's even a trending hashtag #DeathbyPowerPoint on Twitter and Instagram. The main culprits for this are hundreds of bad PowerPoint presentations that went a little like this presentation:

However, good PowerPoint presentations can be a great way to connect with your target audience and improve your bottom line. As such, you need to make sure your PowerPoint doesn’t suck. 

In this post, we’ll share what makes a bad PowerPoint presentation, why you should avoid making people sit through one at all costs, and a handful of tips from the presentation pros that'll help you design a good PowerPoint. Best of all, you'll learn how to avoid death by PowerPoint.

What Makes a "Bad" PowerPoint Presentation?

As rude as it might sound, in most cases, PowerPoint isn't the main reason behind a bad presentation. According to our Envato authors who have designed hundreds of PowerPoint templates, the main reason for bad PowerPoint presentations is design-related.

Slide design with poor layout that uses fonts and colors that detract from the message on the slide is one of the main reasons why PowerPoint gets such a bad reputation

A classic mistake you can make with your PowerPoint slideshow design is to include too much information on a single slide. Take a look at this presentation on Lung Cancer from SlideShare. Not only will you find information overwhelm, but they also decided to add 100 charts on one slide!

A couple of other reasons that lead to bad PowerPoint presentations include:

  • a topic that's got nothing to do with your audience’s interest
  • failing to make a connection with your audience
  • reading directly from the slides

Envato author, Celsius Designs, recommends paying extra attention to the layout and sketching out the presentation on the paper before going into PowerPoint and creating the final presentation. They also suggest studying successful presentations online.

Bad backgrounds, for instance, make it hard to read the text. (Lynnylu, SlideShare)

Another team of our Envato authors, AQR Studio, says that every bad presentation they witnessed had the same thing in common: too much text on individual slides and bad layout. 

Their advice is to take a look at presentation templates created by professionals and study them to find common elements that make for an attractive presentation. They also suggest adding in your own style instead of copying someone else’s.

Too much text on a slide is distracting. (Anil Kumar, SlideShare)

Lastly, don’t forget that nerves and knowing your audience plays an important role in your presentation delivery as well. According to David Beckett, a TEDx speech coach, “[...]two major reasons for poor presentations: nerves, and not paying enough attention to the audience.”

Now that you know what makes a bad PowerPoint presentation, let’s discuss why you should avoid making your audience sit through it.

Why a Bad PowerPoint Presentation Hurts Your Message

A bad presentation will not only leave a sour taste in your mouth, but it'll also bore your audience. Once your audience gets bored, chances are they'll disengage from the presentation and stop paying attention to what you've got to say (also known sarcastically as death by PowerPoint).

Death by PowerPoint bored audience
Death by PowerPoint: by careful not to bore your audience. (illustration source)

Furthermore, once your audience becomes disengaged, chances are they won’t remember the topic, much less the content of your presentation. If you’re presenting in front of potential business partners or investors, you run the risk of not closing the deal or getting the necessary funding.

Ultimately, a bad presentation will result in a bad impression of your brand and business. Luckily, we’ve gathered the best PowerPoint design tips from the experts that'll help you create good PowerPoint presentations and avoid death by PowerPoint.

10 Tips from Professionals for Creating Good PowerPoint Presentations

No matter how experienced you are, the truth is, bad PowerPoint presentations can happen to anyone. Even successful speech coaches aren’t immune to delivering bad presentations.

Michelle Mazurs public speaking tips
Michelle Mazur, professional speech coach. (Image source: Communication Rebel)

Consider this story from Michelle Mazur, speech coach from Communication Rebel:

“Once I was invited to give a presentation on cultural trends. I worked closely with the meeting planner. In fact, she approved every slide I was going to present. This was an executive-level audience and she wanted the content to be perfect. I researched, I prepped, I practiced, I had great examples.  Five minutes into my presentation, one executive raised his hand and asked “Are these trends based on quantitative research?” My reply was, “No, they are qualitative cultural trends.” He and half the room tuned out. The presentation flopped. My mistake was basing my whole speech on information from one person. That question killed me and there was no way to save the presentation in the moment...
I recovered. You can too when your presentation sucks. The most important point is: Keep Speaking. Learn from your mistakes and don't let them hold you back.”

As Dr. Mazur says, the good news is that you can recover from a bad presentation and go on to successfully create good PowerPoints that don’t suck. Below, you’ll find 15 tips from the experts that'll help you rock your PowerPoint design and your presentation skills.

1. Consistency Is Key

The number one tip for your PowerPoint design is to be consistent. This simply refers to using the same fonts and colors throughout your presentation instead of changing them up every other slide.

It’s a good idea to use the same fonts and colors used in the rest of your brand assets. However, if you aren’t sure which colors and fonts are a part of your brand identity, you can’t go wrong with keeping it simple.

Speaker and author Hugh Culver is proof that simplicity works:

“A consistent theme pulls together the variety in your images and message, as you move from problem to solution. You could use the baked-in themes supplied in PowerPoint or Keynote – I don’t because I want a simpler, more unique look.
I create a custom theme simply with my titles, a consistent white background, and sometimes with my logo or my client’s logo.”

2. When It Comes to Text, Less Is Always More

As mentioned earlier, too much text will overwhelm your audience. Another downside of using too much text is that your audience will read the content of the slide before you’re done talking about it and then tune you out.

TEDx in-house presentation expert, Aaron Weyenberg, makes an excellent argument for using less text in your PowerPoints:

“With text, less is almost always more. One thing to avoid—slides with a lot of text, especially if it’s a repeat of what you’re saying out loud. It’s like if you give a paper handout in a meeting—everyone’s head goes down and they read, rather than staying heads-up and listening. If there are a lot of words on your slide, you’re asking your audience to split their attention between what they’re reading and what they’re hearing. That’s really hard for a brain to do, and it compromises the effectiveness of both your slide text and your spoken words. If you can’t avoid having text-y slides, try to progressively reveal text (like unveiling bullet points one by one) as you need it.”

3. Use the Presentation as an Aid, Not the Main Tool

Seth Godin, Photo by Joi Ito via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0

Don’t forget that you, the presenter, are the star of the presentation. Your presentation is there to reinforce your ideas and help you sell your point. Take advice from Seth Godin:

“[...]make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them. Create slides that demonstrate, with emotional proof, that what you’re saying is true not just accurate.”

4. Use Guides to Make Sure Everything Aligns Properly

PowerPoint experts from Nuts and Bolts Speedtraining firmly believe you should add guides to your slides.

“When creating a template in PowerPoint, add guides around the placeholders of the parent slide layout.
That way if you accidentally made a mistake or if you want to make things easier to align in the normal view, then you can just turn those on again and see where everything is supposed to be placed.”

5. Memorize the Concepts & the Scripts

Inc.500 entrepreneur and speaker, Kevin Daum says you should memorize both the concept and the script if you want your presentation to be more memorable. Memorizing your script and the concept also helps in case there are technical difficulties with your presentation.

“Audiences know an amateur the second the notes come out or the presenter looks at the screen as a reminder. This is your material. If you don't own it, you can't expect the audience to respect you as an expert.”

6. Use Relevant Imagery

There is no doubt that images and visual elements can enhance your presentation and make it even more impactful. But those images and other visuals need to be relevant. According to visual communications expert, Curtis Newbold:

“You may, for instance, need to give a presentation on dairy production in your community.[...]What I need to see are images that tell a story about the dying industry and its challenges, and infographics that explain processes for overcoming the hurdles. You need a lot of visual information, yes. But it also needs to be relevant.”
Be selective in the graphics you choose for each slide. Less is more! (Lynnylu, SlideShare)

7. One Message Per Slide

Your presentation needs to pique curiosity in your audience and get them interested in the topic. Once you've got their attention, you need to keep it and the best way to do that is to stick to one message per slide.

Professional training and coaching expert David JP Phillips even goes so far to state presenters should focus on one key message per slide, and include no more than six objects (or lines) on each.

8. Use Animation Carefully

Animation can certainly make a good PowerPoint design more dynamic, but only when used correctly. Otherwise, it’s a distraction that can ruin the impression of your presentation. Learn from Konrad Schroth, PowerPoint expert:

“Like a lot of other PowerPoint features, animation can be distracting if used badly. However, if used rationally, animation can grab your audience's attention at strategic points, allow you to "chunk" information for better comprehension, and help explain complex systems and relationships. After all, we are "wired" to pay attention to movement.”

Learn the basics of using animation:

9. Pay Attention to the Structure

Your presentation needs to have a good flow. It’s important to include all the necessary elements if you want your presentation to be compelling. More specifically, a good presentation resembles a stage production, according to leadership development and executive coaching expert Jeff Black.

“You have to have all the elements: You’ve got to have a great opening act, you’ve got to have something in the middle to pull it through and you’ve got to have a great curtain’s finale at the end.”

10. Practice Is the Key to Success

Finally, don’t forget to practice, practice, and then practice some more the delivery of your presentation. Nancy Duarte, the author of Resonate, shares this as her best advice for new presenters:

“Nothing worthwhile is easy, and the best communicators aren’t always born that way. Many of them saw the importance of improving their skills and put the work in. It will be work. But if you become a golden communicator, your life is in your hands.”

Learn some valuable tips for practicing your presentation:

Find Even More Good PowerPoint Examples

If you're trying to make a PowerPoint that doesn't suck, you'll want plenty of good PowerPoint examples for inspiration. Here are some good PowerPoint designs to inspire you:

Avoid Making PowerPoints That Suck By Applying These Pro Tips

Death by PowerPoint is a real thing that can happen to anyone. If you want to make sure that your presentations leave a positive impact and are remembered not only for their great content but also stellar design, follow the PowerPoint design tips and good PowerPoint examples in this article.

And if you need a good PowerPoint design template for your presentation be sure to check out our collection of beautiful PowerPoint templates over on Envato Elements or GraphicRiver.

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