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Anyone can produce a presentation with strong visual impact – all you need is for your audience to listen

One of PowerPoint’s great strengths – that it unleashes inner creativity – is a deadly drawback when placed in the hands of the over-ambitious. How many of us have sat through a presentation only to leave with vivid memories of fancy graphics and flying bullet points but little sense of the substance of what was actually said?

Simplicity is perfection

Whether you are presenting cost-saving ideas at work or a group project at college, never lose sight of your central theme and messages. Imported pictures or in-built PowerPoint graphics should be used only to enhance the points you make in your actual talk. Anything that requires the audience to squint, ponder, or gasp in admiration is unlikely to serve any useful purpose.

Over-complex presentations aren’t just annoying for the audience – they can spell disaster if you have to present on a different computer than the one on which you created the original PowerPoint file. So don’t use unusual fonts, or bring in animations or sounds – if you are given an old machine to use, or one with a different version of PowerPoint or Windows – you may find yourself in trouble.

Ruthlessness is kindness

Use master slides. Uniformity may spell ‘boring’ to some – but clear, consistent slides with identically-sized and formatted headings and bullets make life so much easier for your audience. Ideally, create a master slide that restricts you to three bullet points per screen, and if possible (although it’s a challenge), three words per bullet point. Alarmed? Don’t be. You don’t want your audience straining to read reams of tiny words on the projector screen. If 3 x 3 is too challenging, go for 6 x 6 – but no more: anything that remotely resembles a paragraph needs re-thinking. Be brutal – edit the unnecessary.

If numbers figure in your presentation, use graphs and tables. PowerPoint lets you go wild with all sorts of elaborate tools but you’re more likely to hold your audience’s attention with minimalism – clear, uncluttered diagrams that let the numbers take centre-stage, rather than floating, three-dimensional columns or multicoloured ‘doughnut charts’. Keep returning to your main theme and messages – does your presentation enhance your message, or have you chosen to use special effects just because you can? Sparing use of PowerPoint’s features will help you make your points more eloquently and impressively than you might think.

Last updated: 6 Feb 2014