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Part 1: General Principles

Written on July 10, 2003 by Robert & Karen Vanderzweerde

Appeared in Greenmaster Magazine

Do you need to make presentations that will impress? If so, PowerPoint software, part of the Microsoft Office Suite, can help put some pizzaz in your presentations. Whether you are presenting your annual budget, holding a meeting to discuss an issue, or training staff, PowerPoint can help you create interest by adding a strong visual component to your talk.

PowerPoint is a tool that helps you create presentation "slides". Slides are the electronic version of overhead transparencies. With PowerPoint you can create slides that are colourful and lively. Your slides can include text, pictures, graphs, charts, and even sound and movie clips. Because they are stored electronically, they are easy to sort and rearrange. Your presentation can be e-mailed or viewed by people around the world using electronic conferencing technology. You can build "animation" into your slides. Animation lets you have text scroll across the screen, flash, or move in various ways. One animation feature is called "slide build", where your slide builds for the audience one point at a time. When you are ready for the next point to be revealed, you press the PgDn key. You may remember a teacher who did this manually with transparencies by using a piece of paper to cover the points he/she was not ready to reveal.

Depending on the location of your presentation, you may only need a laptop computer and a computer projector, or just some software, teleconferencing equipment and computer connections to the Internet. For on-site presentations, a computer projector hooks into a computer, and takes the images from the computer and projects them onto a large screen, much the way old overhead projectors would take transparencies and project them onto a screen. This equipment can usually be rented if you do not have on-going requirements to justify purchasing the equipment. Many meeting facilities have the necessary equipment and sometimes, even the technicians to help you make everything work. If you will be running your presentation on a rented or borrowed computer, you will want to have your presentation on a CD-ROM or a memory stick so it will run at acceptable speeds. In a future article, we will explore ways to hold meetings and make presentations with remote locations.

While the technology may jazz up the actual presentation, most of the thinking needed to make the presentation successful must be done up front. The standard rules of preparing a good presentation haven't changed - a poorly thought out presentation will not get any better because it is done in PowerPoint!

Here are some general guidelines for preparing a successful presentation:

Decide what your purpose and objective are. Presentations typically either try to impart information (think seminars, training materials, orientation) or get agreement on something (think meetings, sales presentations). Know what you are trying to accomplish.

Know your audience. Your presentation must be geared to the knowledge level and concerns of those who will be listening.

Sketch out your basic ideas on paper. You want to get a sense of your topic and how it needs to flow. You can change this later, but you need to start from a good outline.

Don't overload people with information. Put NO MORE than 7 items on a slide (text bullet points, pictures, graphs), and vary that number. Allow 2 to 5 minutes of discussion per slide. Less is more! Focus on what you want people to remember.

Be consistent. Use a consistent template to make your slides work together. Make your pictures and graphics appropriate.

Avoid visual distractions. The animation features in PowerPoint are cool. Avoid the temptation to have them on every slide. Use them to emphasize your key points. Make sure the text is large enough so that everyone in the audience can read it. Use variety in placement and types of images on your slides to keep the attention of your audience.

Build credibility. Quote your sources. "Talk" to your slides, don't just read what is already appearing on the screen. Allow time for a question and answer session. Use the spelling and grammar features to eliminate embarrassing errors. Always double check any numbers or graphs you have included.

Have handouts ready. For an information session, print your presentation out using the "3 per page" format and hand out at the start of the session so people can make notes as you talk. For a meeting or other session where you want discussion, hand out only those slides necessary for the discussion, and hand them out, as you need them. If you want, provide full handouts of your presentation at the end of your session.

Once you have the general flow of your presentation worked out, you are ready to start to build your PowerPoint file. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will show you the specifics of how to make your slide show and build in some of the animation and other fun features!

Part 2: Spice It Up!

Written on September 21, 2003 by Robert & Karen Vanderzweerde

Appeared in Greenmaster Magazine

Now that you've used the General Principles in our last column to outline your presentation on paper, you're ready to create the electronic version using a tool like PowerPoint (part of the Microsoft Office Suite).

Inserting slides and adding titles and bulleted text is easy by simply clicking and typing where PowerPoint indicates "Click to add title" or "Click to add text".

How about jazzing it up to really put your point across while keeping your audience engaged throughout? Here are some effective techniques and handy tips.

Layout Guidelines

Consistency in your presentation is important. If every slide were a different colour, with varying text fonts and sizes, and inconstant graphics, you would soon lose your audience as they "adjust" to each new slide as you show it and miss out on the verbal part of your presentation. Keep to the same font, text size, colour scheme, style of graphics, pictures, or clip art, and overall layout of each slide.

TIP #1: The smallest font size you should use is 24 -- point otherwise your material will be unreadable to the audience. If your words don't all fit on one slide using this font size or larger, then split it into two slides.

TIP #2: Use an easy to read font without undue embellishment to keep your slides uncluttered (e.g. a font such as Arial).

Don 't overlook grammar even though you are using bullet points. Use the same verb tense, use action words, and make sure there is parallel structure in your bullet points (e.g. if most bullet point start with a verb, then all the bullet points on that slide should start with a verb). Always, always, always spell check your presentation ("for" and "four" both spell check but have different meanings) and read your presentation through as if you were an audience member.

However, too much consistency can be boring. Your presentation should have some variety. But how do you do that and maintain consistency? Easy! Vary where graphics appear (sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right or on the bottom of the slide), use interesting clip art that compliments your subject, make things like quotes stand out by using a different font or text placement on the slide (but don't do it too often), and add a small amount of animation (more on that later).

TIP #3: When presenting a quote, always cite the source (i.e. the person's name), even if it is "Anonymous".

This sounds like a lot of work to maintain consistency while trying to add variety. The easiest way is to use a design template.

Design Templates

PowerPoint has built-in design templates that add colour and a theme to your presentation yet maintain consistency in fonts, bullet points, etc.

To pick a template, click on "Format" in the menu bar and then select "Apply Design Template". You'll be presented with a list of templates that you can scroll through. A preview of each template is presented as you highlight it. Select the one that fits your needs by simply pressing enter on the template name.

TIP #4: Pick a template that matches the subject of your presentation. For example, if your presentation is on safety or security, there is a great template with a keyhole and key as a background.

The rest of this article focuses on how to add variety to your chosen design template.

Opening and Closing Slides

A title slide at the beginning of your presentation is key. It can be displayed on the screen as people arrive and gives them confidence that they are in the right place. The title of your presentation should be clear. The subtitle area of the slide could be used to show your name and the current date.

End you presentation with an appropriate slide such as "Questions and Answers" or a "Thank You".

TIP #5: Some people like to end their presentation with a blank slide to prevent getting a black screen. If you're afraid of paging past the last slide, then repeat the title slide at the end of the presentation.


Normally, animation is discouraged in presentations, especially the various kinds available in PowerPoint to transition from one slide to the next. It's overused and unnecessarily detracts attention from your subject matter.

However, there is one type that is quite effective. It's used when you want to present one bullet point at a time to build up to a climax or conclusion. Be careful to do this only once to twice in your presentation (remember that too much of a good thing is too much).

To present one bullet point at a time on a slide, first highlight the bullet points, then click on "Slide Show" on the menu bar and select "Preset Animation". You'll see a list of selections that you can experiment with but the best ones are:

  • Appear - bullets simply appear one at a time
  • Wipe Right - bullets appear as if you typed them very fast
  • Drop In - bullets drop in from the top of the screen into place
  • Dissolve - bullets appear as if they faded in

Graphs and Charts

Using graphs and charts makes your presentation informative.

However, PowerPoint is only good at creating a simple bar chart or organization chart. Insert a slide with the appropriate graphic, click on the spot on the slide where the graphic is to appear, and you will be prompted to enter the data. PowerPoint will then draw your chart for you.

For anything more complex, it's better to create your graphic in another package (e.g. Excel) and then copy it and paste it into the presentation.

TIP #3 (again): When presenting a graphic or chart, always cite the source of your data, even if it's information that you've personally observed or measured.


By all means, include pictures (remember that a picture is worth a thousand words). To do so, copy and paste the picture onto the slide. Alternatively, click on "Insert" from the menu bar, select "Pictures" and then "From File", use the prompt box to locate the picture on your computer, and click on "Open" to insert the picture onto the slide. Once the picture is on the slide, you can drag it to a different spot and re-size it.

Clip Art

If you don't have graphics, charts, or pictures, you can still add some clip art to enhance text-only slides. However, remember not to overdo it.

To add clip art, click on "Insert" from the menu bar, select "Pictures" and then "Clip Art". You'll be presented with a new screen where you can browse through libraries of clip art or even enter search words (e.g. "dogs") to find what you want.

TIP #6: If you can't find suitable clip art, you can go to the web and find more. PowerPoint has a "Search the Web" button that will take you to Microsoft where there are thousands of free clips (including sounds and movies) that you can download into your computer. Again, you can browse through libraries or enter search words.

Here's an example of how we've used clip art (see sample pictures below). We found a great clip of people looking at a map to represent "we're deciding our strategy", which lead us to find similar clips of people seeing the map and pointing to represent "this is our strategy", people climbing walls and mountains to represent "there are challenges", and people rolling out a carpet to an ideal city to represent "we'll get there and reap the benefits" …

TIP #7(a): To find similar looking clips when searching on your computer, click on the clip and then select "Find Similar Clips". You can search for clips by "Artistic Style" or "Colour and Shape".

TIP #7(b): To find similar looking clips when searching Microsoft on the web, click on the clip to preview it. You will see a style number for that clip (say style #15). In the search field, enter "Style 15" and all the clips for that style will be shown.

Remember to drag your clips into different places on each slide (variety) and re-size them to be similar (consistency).

Rearranging Slides

Often, after you've practiced your presentation, you want to re-arrange it by changing the order of the slides.

This is simple. Click on "View" on the menu bar and then select "Slide Sorter". You can drag and drop your slides into a whole new order. To return to editing slides, either double click on a slide or click on "View" on the menu bar and select "Normal".

Much More

There is so much more that you can do (e.g. add sound or video clips). If you're unsure if a specific feature is right for you, try it on someone else and watch their reaction. If they're interested and eager for more, you've found what might work for your audience. Explore and experiment. Spice it up!

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