The Golden Rules of Presentations

PowerPoint and keynote presentations can be highly effective—if you get them right. But too many presentations fail to engage an audience for a variety of reasons. What are the necessary ingredients for a successful PowerPoint presentation?


The basic structure of a solid presentation

No matter what subject or angle you’re presenting, the underlying goal is the same: To tell a good story. Engaging presentations don’t simply slap a bunch of facts and figures onto slides—they have a defined beginning, middle, and end.

The overall goals of your presentation should be to:

  • Frame the issue or topic
  • Present the challenges involved
  • Explore the solution you’re offering

Copy: Less is more

Once you have a handle on the general theme of your presentation, it’s time to come up with the actual text for the slides. Ineffective presentations try to pack as much information as possible onto the screen, and the result is often big blocks of text that no one bothers to read.

Keep in mind that your audience wants to hear you talk, not to read your slides. Your PowerPoint should complement your spoken presentation, not serve as a substitute for it. Limit slides to essential headlines, subheads, and bullet points. Charts and graphs are great, too—they can help to visually reinforce your speech.

Appearances count

Finally, you want to make sure your presentation looks great. That means you should use the most compelling, eye-popping graphics you can find as the background images for your slides—right?

Well, no. Actually, the “less is more” rule applies to backgrounds as well as copy. Busy background images detract from your message and distract your audience. They can also appear clichéd or unprofessional, especially when you use a Microsoft template that’s appeared in hundreds of other presentations before yours.

Here are a few quick guidelines for effective slide backgrounds:

  • Forgo the fancy stuff in favor of plain, solid colors that draw attention to your words and charts, instead of your graphic template catalog.
  • Dark backgrounds with light text work best. Choose classic dark solids like burgundy, navy, or black.
  • Avoid solid white or neon backgrounds. You don’t want to blind your audience.
  • To add a bit of pop to your background, opt for a gentle gradient or a very light, uncomplicated pattern, such as parchment.

Keep it simple

Overall, your presentation should serve as a modest, useful backdrop for your talk. Avoid the temptation to go crazy with PowerPoint—the more bells and whistles you display on the screen, the less attentive your audience will be.

Follow these golden rules, and your next presentation will be a smash hit!


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