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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Chelf

PowerPoint design best practices

Most of us have endured a boring PowerPoint presentation at least once in our careers – it almost seems to be a rite of passage in the professional world. Try to visualize the last one you sat through: what did the slides look like? Was the design visually appealing? How much text was on each slide? Could you easily understand the charts and visuals?

Don’t feel too bad if you can’t remember what it looked like; an audience quickly loses focus if they don’t feel visually engaged with the presentation, regardless of the topic. However, you don’t want your audience to stop paying attention during your next presentation, so keep these design best practices in mind the next time you assemble a PowerPoint:

  1. Organize and focus your content. Dedicate each slide to only one topic, with the topic clearly stated in the slide title. Having a tidy structure to your presentation not only helps make your data clear to your audience, it can also keep your thoughts organized while you present.

  2. Don’t fill your slides with text. If your audience sees full paragraphs or a wall of bullet points, they’re going to think you’re unprepared. They don’t want to read all of it – nor do they want to listen to you read it to them.

  3. Keep accessibility in mind. Your presentation should be designed to be readable by people of diverse abilities, as well as easy to understand regardless of your audience’s technical expertise or background. Choose simple over complex in terms of language and visuals. Use a legible font and ensure adequate size and color contrast for any low-vision or colorblind audience members.

  4. Establish visual hierarchy. Your audience’s eyes will be drawn to whatever the focal point of each new slide is, whether it’s the title, a chart, an image or other key information. Make sure it’s the most visually bold aspect of your slide, and then establish reading order for the remaining content through visual cues (numbers, icons, etc.).

  5. Pick a motif that runs throughout. A consistent design or theme will make your presentation cohesive and more engaging to your audience.

  6. Include data visualization. When used properly, charts and graphs can convey more with less. Mix up the style of charts or graphs to keep your audience from getting bored.

  7. Highlight key information. Our brains process certain visual cues before we’re even consciously aware of them. These cues, called preattentive attributes, include color, size, style, form and spatial positioning. Use them to draw the eye to your most important data first.

  8. Alternate layouts. Your audience will get bored seeing the same slide design over and over. Try to use four or five styles that are consistent in theme and color but differ in layout.

  9. Add a progress tracker. This creates a sense of forward momentum, which makes your audience feel engaged (and also reassures them that there is, in fact, an end in sight).

  10. Create a PDF of your PowerPoint. Your audience may want a copy of your slides for note-taking purposes during your presentation, or for referring back to after you’ve presented.

Armed with these tips, you’ll have a grateful and engaged audience for your next PowerPoint presentation. Need a bit of guidance on where to start? Reach out to AOE today for help with templates, content and more.


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