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5 Tips for Better Keynote Presentations

This post is part of a series called How to Use Apple Keynote (Ultimate Tutorial Guide).
The Keynote Advantage
How to Create a Keynote Presentation Template Design

For many people, presentations are overwhelming. They struggle with the delivery or design of the slides, and the result is a mess that bores audiences. 

Taking cues from Apple's iconic production introductions, we can learn a lot about how to showcase your important slides. In this tutorial, I share five killers presentation tips to use with Apple's Keynote software. 

Also, before you jump into these quick tips be sure to grab a copy of our free eBook: The Complete Guide to Making Great PresentationsIt will help you master the presentation process, from: initial idea, through writing, design, and delivering with impact.

Making Great Presentations eBook Free Download

1. Theme Presets

The base for any Keynote is the Theme. To select a Theme and get started on crafting your Keynote, open the Keynote application and go to File > New or press the Command+N keys. Apple provides dozens of ready-made presets for use.

When choosing a theme I recommend sticking to the simple ones, that will showcase your content without distractions, such as the black or white themes.

Another quick way to create a clean background of your own is to start with the White Theme. Then go into the Inspector and use the “Color Fill” option to customize your background. To open Inspector, go to View > Show Inspector. Go to the Slide tab (second from left), and then click on the Appearance tab. At the bottom of Inspector, there will be a “Color Fill” option. By clicking on the color box, you will open the Color window and will be able to customize the color of your slide.

A solid custom-color background will serve as a great Theme for your Keynote

A solid custom-color background will serve as a great Theme for your Keynote.

Why these themes? They all share some common traits, including modern fonts, simplistic layout, and the lack of textured backgrounds (except for Blueprint). These themes also steer away from shadows, cheesy graphic elements, and bordered photos. Overall, they set the stage for great content rather than distract the audience from what you as a presenter are trying to say.

Another important detail to notice as you select a Theme is the “Slide Size” dropdown button in the lower right hand corner of the Theme chooser. If you know you will be presenting on an old 4:3 projector, go with the 800x600 resolution. If you’re presenting on a widescreen HD projector, use the 1920x1080 size. Going the extra mile to tailor your canvas to the screen you’ll be using is a great way to put your Keynote on the next level.

Notice the Slide Size dropdown menu in the bottom right hand corner

Notice the "Slide Size" dropdown menu in the bottom right hand corner.

2. Use and Format Text Carefully

Text in a Keynote is a double edge sword. It is essential, in some respects, but it must be used sparingly. Presentation experts recommend only four or five words per bullet point, and only four or five bullet points per slide. Others say to use a maximum of 30 words per slide.

Ultimately, you'll want to use as few words as possible to present your information. Keynotes loaded with text will bore and overwhelm your audience. Your speaking should give your audience the most information. The Keynote is simply there to reinforce your main ideas and your structure, and also to communicate visually when needed. Bullet points are prompts for concepts or ideas on which you can expand.

Picking one or two great fonts to use throughout your presentation is key. While subjective, there are some general things to do when choosing fonts. Don't use handwriting fonts or elaborate fonts. Sans-serif fonts tend to work really well in Keynotes as well, so choose something classic like Helvetica or Arial.

Consistency, in font use, is also very important. This means that you pick one or two fonts and stick with those throughout. Use consistent font sizes in certain places throughout the Keynote, etc.

Color (or often times, the lack thereof) is key to presenting text well. Generally speaking, you should use black or dark grey for most of your text. For lines or headers that you want to accent, use a color that fits with your theme. But only use color as an accent, not as the rule of thumb.

3. Present Data With Graphs and Charts

Keynote has some incredible three-dimensional charts and graphs. Whenever you have data sets to communicate, don’t hesitate to dive into these tools and create a beautiful visual. Generally, pie charts are used to show percentages, bar graphs show comparison, and line charts show trends over time.

Charts are essential to carefully presenting data. Instead of overwhelming your audience with lists and numbers, charts provide a visual look at information.

To create one of these visuals in Keynote, go to Insert > Chart and select the appropriate chart for your use. The chart will appear on your background, along with the Chart Inspector window, 3D Chart position editor, and the Chart Data Editor. These three windows contain all the tools you need to design and fill your charts with beautiful data.

A chart is a beautiful and simple way to display data

A chart is a beautiful and simple way to display data.

4. Use Transitions and Animations Wisely

There are two categories of transitions to be aware of: “slide” transitions and “build” transitions. Slide transitions refer to the transition between entire slides of layout. For this transition, you are usually best off using a quick dissolve, or even, no transition at all.

Build transitions refer to the entrance/exit of individual elements on one particular slide. For build transitions, there are several great options depending on how much attention you want to draw to an element. Convergence, Dissolve, Move In, Drift, and Pop are all great options for build transitions. Just make sure to use them sparingly, and keep the “transition time” to a minimum. Also, only use the more movement-based transitions for elements that you really want to accent.

Slide and build transitions can be previewed and edited from the Inspector window. To add a transition to a slide, simply select the slide you want to transition from and add a slide transition. To add a build transition, click on the element you want to build in, and then go into the Build tab in Inspector and add a transition.

Transitions are managed from the Inspector window. Use them sparingly to provide a good effect.

Another great way to use transitions is bullet points. You can quickly and easily add transitions to a text box containing bullet points. Craft your box of text, select the box, and then go into the Build tab in Inspector. Choose a transition, and then under the “Delivery” section, select “By Bullet.” This will bring in your bullet points individually with minimal setup on your part.

Bullet point transitions are very easy to add to your presentation

Bullet point transitions are very easy to add to your presentation.

5. Plan for Presentation

Keynote includes some great functionality to improve your speaking during your presentation. Apple sells the “Keynote Remote” app for iPhone for $0.99. This app connects to the Keynote software on your mac and allows you to wirelessly control your presentation. This really cleans up your speaking, as you are free to move around and are not tied to looking at/staying at your Mac during the presentation.

Keynote also includes a “Presenter Notes” section. Basically, for each slide, you can add detailed notes about how and what you are going to speak during that slide to coincide with what is on the screen. This could include your outline, facts, statistics, key words, etc. To view and edit presenter notes, just go to View > Show Presenter Notes. The coolest part? The Keynote Remote app shows you these notes on your iPhone screen, keeping you free from your Mac for even the most detailed presentations.

Presenter Notes are a great way to improve your speaking

Presenter Notes are a great way to improve your speaking.

Make a Great Keynote Presentation Today

Now you know how to make great Keynote presentations: from using theme settings, to working with text and graphics professionally, to applying simple animation, and more.

With these five tips in hand, putting together memorable presentations in Keynote is a breeze. Ultimately, make your presentation something that you would want to watch. Remember that a Keynote presentation is designed to reinforce your delivery instead of substituting for it.

Download Our (Free) eBook on Making Great Presentations 

We also have the perfect compliment to the quick tips in this article. It will help you learn how to write, design, and deliver great presentations—deconstructing the entire process:

Free eBook PDF Download Make a Great Presentation

Grab The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations now for FREE with a subscription to the Tuts+ Business Newsletter. Get your ideas formed into a powerful presentation that will move your audience. 

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