Mention the terms "public speaking" or "presentation", and you're likely to evoke an emotional response from anyone nearby.
That strong response is usually rooted in our personal horror stories, like an embarrassing slip-up in a presentation for a class, or a talk at work that fell flat.
Here's the thing though: giving a great PowerPoint presentation is a skill, and it's one that anyone can build and improve upon.
Becoming a motivational speaker or renowned presenter doesn't have to be your overarching goal either—you can become a proficient and effective speaker in a variety of contexts.
You can learn a professional process that will help you make a great presentation and present like a pro.
Giving presentations can feel overwhelming. It's hard to know where to start, even if you're willing to put in the time. That's why I've broken down the art of building a presentation into lists and actionable steps you can readily follow in this tutorial.
We combine technical skills in Microsoft PowerPoint with best practices for presenting information. This tutorial will give you a straightforward set of steps to write and create a successful presentation.
Follow along to learn step-by-step how to make a great presentation in PowerPoint that's ready to present to an eager audience.
1. Content Comes First
The first part of writing a successful PowerPoint-based presentation has nothing to do with PowerPoint; it's all about the content that you'll put inside of it.
You're making a mistake if you start off with looking at the design of your PowerPoint presentation or making animations for your slides from the get go. Instead, you should prioritize writing the content for your presentation first. Write your content before you even open PowerPoint.
In summary, keep these two simple points in mind when you start writing the content for your presentation:
- Bad - You start off creating a PowerPoint presentation by opening up the app and choosing a theme and your favorite colors.
- Good - Put yourself in your audience's shoes, and decide what they should feel and know at the end of your presentation.
I use a simple note-taking app like Notes for Mac or Evernote to help me organize my thoughts. I've also been known to jot down my content ideas on a spare napkin or the back of a notebook. For this exercise, grab a piece of paper and follow each of the content-writing steps.
Remember: The point is that we decide on what we want to say before we begin saying it in PowerPoint.
Let's break down the detailed steps I use when writing presentations using Microsoft PowerPoint:
Step 1. Write Down Your Presentation's Goal
I've been guilty of throwing all of my data or ideas into a PowerPoint file and seeing what it looks like when I'm finished.
This directionless wandering is a surefire recipe for presentations that will bore your audience and lose their attention. That's why it's so important to set your presentation goal first.
Here are some examples of goal-setting for a presentation:
- To educate the audience on the latest developments with the Swift programming language.
- To update my team on the progress of a major project at the company.
- To persuade the audience to use your product to grow their own freelance business.
You could break these main types of presentations down into other categories, but I find that this is a simple and helpful way to start setting your goal.
Before you start writing your presentation, or pulling together all of the data and visuals.
Do This: Write the goal for your presentation on a piece of paper, or the app taking note of choice. Put it in front of you throughout the content writing process, so you won't lose track of your ultimate goal for your presentation.
Step 2. Define Your Audience
Who will you be speaking to, and what do they already know about the topic at hand?
It seems so obvious, but many presenters use a one-size-fits all approach to sharing information. Instead, you have to tailor your content to who will hear it, and what they know about the topic beforehand.
If I'm speaking to a room of PhD economists, a presentation about the future of blockchain will be different than if I'm presenting to a group of high school students. Tailoring your content to the audience will help them get the most from your presentation.
Do This: Describe your primary audience below the goal you wrote in step one. Write down what their level of familiarity with the topic is, and anything they might have in common.
Consider all of the following when defining your audience:
- What do they know about the topic before attending your presentation?
- What do they know about you coming into the presentation? Your presentation could range from your daily colleagues, to a complete group of strangers.
- Decide what their expectations for the presentation are; are they coming to to find a solution to a problem, learn something new, or to be entertained?
All of these should be considered when you're writing content. You'll approach an audience of your peers differently than an unfamiliar audience.
Best of all, you can create multiple versions of your presentation if your audience changes. Each time your audience changes, you can tweak the presentation to match.
Learn more about how to put your audiences needs first, as well as how to make a great PowerPoint presentation that's memorable and persuasive:
Step 3. Set Your Key Presentation Points
We've defined the presentation's goal and considered our audience. Now, it's time to write a presentation outline that fits with both of these.
I used to blow off the idea of writing an outline for my presentations. I thought I had all of the ideas and key points clearly defined in my own mind. Unfortunately, this is a false sense of clarity; we're biased to understand our own ideas far better than anyone else is.
Below the audience we defined, start writing down the key supporting ideas for your presentation. Aim for four to five major points that will be the cornerstone of your presentation.
If I'm writing a persuasive speech for example, each of the major bullet points will be key ideas that reinforce my overall goal. Again, tie everything you write back to that original goal.
There are no rules for writing an outline, and there's no reason to belabor the process. The goal is to simply solidify the structure of our content and lay out the roadmap for our presentation, with each of the key ideas as their own bullet points.
Step 4. Build Your Supporting Points
Let's keep working on that outline. We've identified the main, major points, but it's time to go one level deeper.
For each of our major ideas, let's add a second level of detail. These are the supporting points for each of the major ideas, or basically the second level of your outline.
We've basically built a pyramid of content now. The bottom of the pyramid that guides the entire presentation is the goal. On top of it is the outline, with supporting points that drive the goal.
For more detail, you can learn more about the presentation writing process in this helpful tutorial:
- PresentationsHow to Write a Professional PowerPoint Presentation (Discover the Writing Process)Brad Smith
In many ways, the hard work is finished. We now have all of the pieces to build a great PowerPoint presentation —we just need to assemble them.
2. Add Your Content
At this point, you should have four key items written down, then we're ready to use them to start putting together our presentation. These key items are:
- The Presentation Goal - The driving force of why you're presenting, and what your audience should understand at the end.
The Audience Defined - Who are you presenting to? What do they know coming into this presentation?
The Outline - The roadmap for your presentation; the guideposts that keep us on track when designing and giving a presentation.
- The Support - The individual facts, ideas, and data that build the case for what you will share with your audience.
With that in hand, it's now time to jump over to PowerPoint and start building your presentation. Let's open PowerPoint and start working.
Step 1. Work With PowerPoint's Outline View
So far, we've been building an outline on paper or in another app, and PowerPoint actually allows you to build a presentation from outline view. At this point, you can start taking the outline you've written down on paper and loading it into your PowerPoint presentation.
To switch to outline view, find the View tab on the PowerPoint ribbon and click on Outline View. On the left side of the window, you can click next to one of the white boxes to get started.
To add a new major point, press Enter. As you add a new bullet point to the outline view, PowerPoint will update the slide with the points.
Press Control + Enter to add a second level of outline points. Type your outline points, and PowerPoint will populate the slides with your data.
Use the outline you wrote in the first half of this tutorial to build out the content on your PowerPoint slides. Of course, you'll want to rewrite what's in your outline in a presentation-friendly way, such as keeping the bullet points short and succinct to hold your audience's attention.
Step 2. Use Short Tips for Each Slide
I think we've all sat through enough presentations where the speaker literally read word-for-word the contents of a presentation.
This is the fastest way to lose your audience's attention. If I wanted to read slides, I would do it on my own and skip listening to someone do it for me.
Bullet points shouldn't be full sentences, pulled from your outline. They should be summaries of your ideas that you'll elaborate on while speaking.
Make the font size large for maximum readability and sentences short for your audience's attention span. Keeping your bullet points concise helps make a great PowerPoint presentation that's more memorable.
Step 3. Put Layouts in PowerPoint to Use
Layouts are the preset combination of elements like content boxes and placeholders for images and media. There are a number of choices to work with, and when used well, they can make a good PowerPoint presentation great.
To choose a layout, find the Layout button on the Home tab of the PowerPoint ribbon. Click on the dropdown option to choose a different layout for a different arrangement of the content on your slides.
These layouts are different ways to adapt your content. No matter what content you've typed in outline view, changing the outline will keep the content but adapt it to a new arrangement.
Depending on the PowerPoint presentation theme you're using, you should select a layout that gives you the elements that you want. If I know that my slide will include images, I'll make sure to pick a layout with an image placeholder.
To make a great PowerPoint presentation, choose the best slide layout that fits the content of each of your slides, as well as the overall flow of your presentation.
3. Build the Look of Your PowerPoint Presentation
You'll be much more confident if you know that your presentation's theme looks great. PowerPoint has a number of built-in themes that are a good starting point, but there are much better alternatives that are unique.
Step 1. Work With a Custom PowerPoint Theme
My favorite resource right now for PowerPoint themes is Envato Elements. This is really an incredible, all-you-can-eat buffet of great looking PowerPoint presentation themes. For one flat rate fee, you have access to a huge library of creative assets:
That access includes currently more than 400 PowerPoint templates that you can use including in commercial settings. As long as you're a subscriber, you can download an unlimited number of great PowerPoint presentation themes for your next big presentation.
The best part about custom themes is that they typically include ideas for your slides. They'll include layouts that you can easily place your own content into.
I'm almost always preparing a presentation on a tight deadline. I hardly have the time to build all of my own illustrations, graphics and visuals from scratch. Elements has enough presentation themes for any type of presentation.
You can also find great PowerPoint templates for individual sale on Envato Market. Discover more trending presentation designs in this curated selection:
Step 2. Change Themes and Styles for Your Presentation
To change your PowerPoint theme, navigate to the Design tab on PowerPoint's ribbon. Click the dropdown arrow and choose one of the thumbnails to change your PowerPoint theme to the best one for your presentation.
Using themes and adding your content actually goes hand-in-hand. As you change your theme, you might need to rework the content so that it appears correctly. Learn more about how to work with professional Powerpoint templates to make your presentation:
4. Add Visualizations to Your Presentation
Visualizations are a great way to break up the monotony of bullet points in your PowerPoint presentation. A well-placed chart or stunning image can hold your audience's attention or provide a visual representation of a fact.
Check out the tutorials below to learn about several key visualization techniques in PowerPoint, and how you can use them to make great Powerpoint presentations with more visual impact:
I prefer to add visualizations near the end of the process, once I've selected the theme that affects the entire presentation.
5. Prepare in PowerPoint and Then Present
It's finally showtime; all of your hard work to write your content and package it into an attractive presentation is about to pay off.
Let's look at how to get ready to give a great presentation using PowerPoint. For many of us, this is the most intimidating stage in the process—where we step up and deliver.
PowerPoint has several great features to cut down on your presentation anxiety. Use these while preparing to speak.
Step 1. Prepare Your Speaker Notes
Since our slides don't contain exactly what we'll say while presenting, the Speaker Notes is where to place that information.
At the bottom of PowerPoint is a Notes button you can click on to open the speaker notes. This is a great place to type in and capture your cues or key speaking points for your presentation.
Learn how to add Speaker Notes to your PowerPoint presentation quickly:
Where do these notes show up? You'll see them in either presentation mode (more on that in a minute) or if you print a copy of the slides out. Either way, I use these to prompt my speech and remember my essential talking points.
Step 2. Work With Presenter View in PowerPoint
Presentation mode is perfect for those times when you've connected your device to an external display. What you see on your own screen can be different than what your audience sees.
To enter this mode, check the Use Presenter View box on the Slide Show tab of PowerPoint's ribbon. When you enter slide show view (F5 is the keyboard shortcut), you'll enter a custom presenter view.
Now, when you enter the slide show view, you'll have a different view on your own monitor, complete with the speaker notes below.
If you have a second screen, this is definitely the best way to present. You'll keep your notes in front of you and have a quick view of the next slide in your deck.
Recap & Keep Learning More About Making Great PowerPoint Presentations
I teach for Envato Tuts+ because I love helping readers gain skills in the areas that will further their business and career skills. Presentations can seem overwhelming at first, but they're really just another set of skills you can build with a bit of effort and time.
What you've learned in this tutorial is a great foundational staring point from which you build on. Put these steps to use today to prepare a professional presentation in PowerPoint.
Don't Forget: Your aim is to make a great PowerPoint presentation that achieves your goal and moves your audience. For more tips on how to get creative with your presentation and really inspire your audience to action, read:
- Presentations10 Creative Presentation Ideas: That Will Inspire Your Audience to ActionJulia Melymbrose
- OfficeHow to Use and Edit PowerPoint Master SlidesBob Flisser
- Microsoft PowerPointHow to Make Your PowerPoint Presentation Design BetterSven Lenaerts
- Microsoft PowerPoint37 Effective PowerPoint Presentation TipsBrad Smith
What's your top tip for how to make a great PowerPoint presentations? Let me know in the comments section below.