In an effort to help businesses make the most of the everyday tools at their disposal, Puryear IT recently held a webinar focused on Microsoft PowerPoint. Hosted by Communications Consultant Melanie Estevez, this presentation covered the common mistakes made by inexperienced users, and some great tips on how to properly use the program’s features.
While PowerPoint is best known as part of the Microsoft Office suite, the program has been around since 1984. Originally developed by Apple for the Apple Macintosh computer, PowerPoint now boasts more than 500 million users worldwide.
With more than 30 million presentations being created every day, there are bound to be some less than stellar slides floating around out there. There are 5 big PowerPoint “fails”, common mistakes PowerPoint users make while trying to put together an informative and engaging presentation.
- Too Much Content On A Single Slide – In an attempt to keep presentations short, there is a tendency to overload slides with way too much information. The result is a series of confusing and hard to read slides that are almost impossible for your audience to follow. Your message gets lost in a jumble of tiny font, confusing graphs, and bright colors.
- Animating Stuff Just Because You Can – While it can add a little bit of flare to your presentation, the temptation to have text and graphics flying all over the screen is one you should try to avoid. It’s a fun feature when used sparingly to highlight information, but mostly it’s just distracting.
- Using Many Different Fonts or Colors – While there is nothing wrong with trying to make your slides visually interesting, by throwing multiple fonts or multiple text colors together on the same slide, you’re creating something that is just as distracting and hard to follow as a slide with an overabundance of animation. By using color to highlight more than one point or line of text, your message gets lost in the chaos and can end up coming across in a way you hadn’t intended by emphasizing the wrong information.
- Images or Fonts That Are Too Small – Going back to the first issue with having too much information on a single slide, using tiny text to cram more data in results in your audience being completely unable to read any of what you’re trying to show them. The same goes for charts and graphs. When you have a chart with dozens of components, everything blurs together and your message is lost.
- Complex Graphs – While the data you’re trying to present is no doubt important, including a pie graph with 10 or 15 different values in your slide is not a good idea. All of those tiny slivers of color with their tiny labels are hard to read and end up causing confusion for your audience as they try to follow along.
The trick to mastering PowerPoint? Keep your slides simple and clean, and use the programs features to enhance your content in a way that highlights the information and draws the attention of your audience to what is most important. That starts with getting a better understanding of where your audience’s gaze is drawn to first.
Headlines and faces are the two things that will jump out at your audience before any other content. It’s important to remember that your audience will not read every word put up on the screen in from of them. They’ll skim the first few words of a paragraph before jumping to the next item. Things like ‘fun facts’ or other additions will catch their attention before they get through an entire block of text.
Balancing your slides is key. Text and bullet points are placed along the left side of the slide. It can be tempting to mess with the alignment or stagger lines of text to try and punch things up a little, but a “boring” slide is simply easier to read. Adding a small graphic or chart to the right side can even out your slide and make it more appealing without being distracting.
Making use of the Grid Lines option will allow you to keep graphics evenly spaced and centered. You can access this feature by right-clicking on the slide. You can add multiple vertical and horizontal lines to help keep your slide looking uniform and organized. This will let you be creative with your layout without having to worry that your graphics will appear wonky or haphazardly placed. These lines are invisible while your presentation is live.
Something important to keep in mind is the idea that your data is only as good as your ability to understand and communicate it. When making use of the graph feature, choose an option that fits the type of information you’re trying to convey. Some helpful tips for the graph function:
- Bar graphs are a good choice for chronological data
- Place negative values below the X axis to reinforce the fact that it’s a negative value
- Horizontal bar graphs are great for data the requires a long header label
- Graphs are good for comparisons, but try to keep the total amount of values represented to 4 or less
- Keep all of the bars in your bar graphs the same color, unless there is ONE value you want to draw special attention to
- Pie charts are ideal for comparing data, but again you need to limit the amount of values represented
- CHECK YOUR MATH. Make sure any pie chart you include adds up to 100%
- Order your “slices” by size to make the values easy to follow
- Line and area graphs are the best choice for showing progress over time
- Keep your lines clean and simple, and limit the represented values to 4 or less
- When using an area graph, use a gradient color scheme and place the highest value at the top
You can tweak the size of your graph labels to make them easier to read, and remove unnecessary or repetitive labels all together. If you’re placing multiple graphs on the same slide, use the Grid Lines option to make sure your graphs are evenly spaced and centered, and use the same color scheme and legend for each of them.
The cleaner your graphs are, the easier your audience will be able to follow along. Include summaries to clearly outline what the point is you’re trying to get across with graphs, tables, and charts. It can be something as simple as a bullet point that highlights what the most important value in a graph represents.
Visual aides are a great addition, but only when they’re well executed. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Choosing the right image is important, but so is using that image in a way that adds something to your slide. It should go without saying that clip art should be avoided at all costs.
Once you have your image placed on a slide, select Picture Tools to make use of the crop feature. Not only can you now focus on the elements of your chosen photo that are most relevant to your message, but you can use the feature to crop photos into shapes. Using a circle or diamond crop instead of a traditional rectangle can add a little something extra to your slide without detracting from the information included alongside it.
You also need to consider how you will be presenting the final product. If you’ll be giving a live presentation and projecting your slides up on a screen, use big, bold fonts that are easy to read. If you’ll being using your presentation for a webinar, or as something to be printed and handed out, you can be a little more creative with your fonts.
Regardless of how your slides will be used, sizing font correctly is crucial. Use sizing to emphasize the most important pieces of information, as this will be the text that stands out the most. Use spacing to keep your text legible from a distance, especially when your slide has bullet points. You’ll find these options in the Format tab.
When you do need to include a lot of text on a slide, be mindful of overemphasis. Using bolding in addition to bullet points can quickly take the focus off of the text you want your audience to be paying attention to. A table may be a better alternative for something like a list of data organized by date.
When it comes to creating a successful PowerPoint presentation, less is more. Keep your slides simple, and text to a minimum whenever possible. Use graphs, graphics, colors, and animation sparingly, and focus on the highlights of your presentation’s topic. Take the extra few minutes to use the features at your disposal to give your slides a polished and professional finish. It will be worth the effort when you see how great the final product looks.
Want to find out more about the ways you can use PowerPoint to enhance your business? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (225) 706-8414. We’re the trusted IT experts for businesses in Baton Rouge.