An introduction to making professional PowerPoint slides.
It is well known that humans can only process around 5 to 7 pieces of information at a time. More than that and we start getting confused. (See, for example, Cowan, The magical number 4 in short-term memory)
Let me make one thing clear.
When it comes to presentations, we never ever want to make people confused.
Look at a typical business slide like this one.
There are 6 large elements:
- The title
- The chart
- Big bullet one, “This is the text”
- Big bullet two, “Things I want to say”
- Company name
- Company logo
There are 6 smaller elements:
- The labels on the x axis of the chart
- The labels on the y axis of the chart
- The labels of the colors on the chart
- The bars on the chart
- The 3 bullets under big point one
- The 5 bullets under big point two
There are 5 different fonts and one emphasized text.
There is also a bewildering mixture of shapes (between the bullets, logo, bars on chart, etc.)
You can do the math as well as I can, but we’re up to way more than 5 to 7 pieces of information.
The confusion factor is high. Your audience will start playing with their smart phones soon.
What to do?
1. Remove the logo and the company name. You’ve been introduced, you gave handouts or business cards, you had your logo at the beginning, and you will give your contact details at the end. There is no need for the logo and company name on every slide. It’s just extra distraction.
2. Remove the title. If you feel it is necessary to have a title, make a title slide introducing this section of your presentation. Then get rid of it and get on to the content.
3. Remove some of the bullets. Why are the bullet points there? If they are really for the audience, that’s one thing. If they are for the presenter, then write them on a notecard and not on the slide. Here, points 4 through 8 are unnecessary clutter on the slide.
4. Put the graph on its own slide. If you are talking about the graph, talk about the graph. Make it big enough for your audience to see. Make the graph clear. Give it a title so they know what it is. What is important about it? Explain it to them.
5. Put the bulleted text on another slide. Make the text large enough to read from the back of the room. Make sure that your important points are clear and direct. Make sure that there are never too many points and that they are grouped together in an understandable way. Further, since people read faster than they listen, you could display the individual points only when you are ready to talk about them.
Professional PowerPoint slides that everybody can read
So, we’ve taken one overloaded slide and changed it into at least 3 very understandable slides, none of which has too much information.
When you eliminate confusion on your slides, you increase communication.
Get into the habit of asking “Why?” for each element on your slides. If you cannot identify what the audience is supposed to get from it, take it away.
The payoff? An audience that understands you.
Bonus 1: There is a version of this post (called, “How to keep your audience from falling asleep”) on slideshare, that is more fun and that takes you through the steps in even more detail.
Bonus 2: I purposely included a very common error with the colors on the graph in this post. Because of the colors, some of the important people in the audience will not see the important data clearly. 9% of men are red/green color-blind, another 2-3% are red-blue color-blind, as is a small percentage of women. Some experts suggest only using patterns and primary colors on charts and graphs.
For a teaser of a future post on this, click here.
If you want some further presentation advice, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Talbott founded TIP (Talbott International Presentations) in 2012 with the ambition to make the world more interesting, one presentation at a time. He is internationally recognized for helping his clients create and deliver presentations that go straight to the point and achieve results. He has helped hundreds of people and companies improve their pitches (small presentations), which has led to a direct increase in their bottom line. For longer presentations, his clients have included both small and multinational companies, non-profits, start-ups and political parties. TIP is based in The Hague in the Netherlands.
Copyright © 2014, Jonathan Talbott