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Tips on Making an Effective Powerpoint Presentation

written by: Eric Christiansen•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/12/2009

Many students in high school or college have had presentation assignments come up more than once. Commonly, PowerPoint is the software tool that students will use to show their subject and present to the class. Here are a few tips to make PowerPoint look good, stay interesting, and prevent mistakes.

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    How to Organize

    Before starting to create slides and effects, the presenter or group should begin to organize an outline of their topic and separate it into sections, like introduction, body, and conclusion. Each part should not linger on too long, but still be long enough to deserve having time in the slide show. Set up the introduction by listing all of the points that the presentation will go over. It is additionally important to know the audience that will view the presentation. This affects what choices should be made when determining what PowerPoint visuals will appeal to the audience. Once the outline is set, begin to work on each slide.

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    Visuals almost always make or break any presentation. Many common errors include a poor font choice, awkward contrast of colors, and background colors and styles that conflict with your other choices. Some good choices for font include Arial, Lucida Sans Unicode, and Verdana. Most simple fonts will be easy on the eye as long as they are not too big or small and are not difficult to read on screen. Softer and comfortable fonts, like Georgia or Bookman Old Style, might work well for a literary type presentation (i.e. book report). Backgrounds can be chosen based on color and style. PowerPoint has a number of pre-made backgrounds that can be selected by going to “Format > Background.” A menu will show a list of backgrounds with their own color and font theme. User made backgrounds can also be done by right-clicking in the background of a slide and selecting “Background.” From here, users can use fill effects and colors by selecting the arrow and choosing from the list of styles and custom colors.

    Make sure that the colors blend well into the presentation. Try not to use colors that don’t match with each other and don’t make a different theme for each slide, unless when used to switch subjects. It is critical that the font is visible in each slide. Sometimes black or white fonts will fade into the background if it is a dark or light color, and then cannot be seen clearly.

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    Animations & Slides

    Animations are a good attention getter, as long as they mix into the presentation well and are not overdone. A good way to list topics in the beginning is to use custom animations to have each point enter the slide. To do this right click on the phrase you want to custom animate and select “custom animation.” A menu will pop-up giving a description of how each animation works. A few good animations include multiple fade transitions and sliding in from the side of the screen. There are animations that make the words spin and dance around, but don’t use these unless your topic is fairly lighthearted.

    Slides also have transitions between one another. The animations are similar to ones used for words and phrases, only they do this for the whole screen. To access this, go to “Slide Show > Slide Transition.” Make sure that the speed is set appropriately (usually medium is fine) and make sure that a new slide will appear on mouse click or space bar. Transitions are not necessary, but even something as simple as a fade makes the presentation move smoothly.

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    Pictures & Video

    Showing pictures and video to go with the topic can hold attention for even longer. To insert a picture, go to “Insert > Picture > From File.” PowerPoint also has a number of clip art pictures if you don't have a custom one. Pictures can also be given their own animations by right-clicking on the picture and clicking “Custom Animation.” To insert a video, go to “Insert > Movies and Sounds > Movie from File.” Movies can be started at the beginning of the slide or on click. Movies shouldn’t be too long or inserted more than twice because they can steal the thunder from the presentation itself.

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    Review before Presenting

    When everything is completed, ask yourself if this presentation interests you. Even if the subject is not the presenter's or group’s favorite interest, try to go for something that will attempt to catch the audience's attention. PowerPoint has some nifty features that are commonly unused or used incorrectly. The presentation has to present its topic well by utilizing the effects and themes, and not letting them get in the way.