October 5, 2010


You are the presentation – your slides are just a prop, like a magician’s magic cards. The first thing to ask yourself is – do you need slides?. The answer is probably yes, but it is a worthwhile exercise to ask the question. Some of the most memorable speeches in history – “Four score and seven years ago …”, “We shall fight them on the beaches … we shall never surrender.”, “Ask not what your country can do for you … ”’, “I have a dream.”  were presented without slides.

There are only a few features of PowerPoint that you should use. Using the majority of the other “cool” features in PowerPoint has been proven to reduce the effectiveness of your presentation and even to annoy the audience.

1. Start

Do not start by creating detailed slides. Start with your summary. The audience will only remember 3 to 5 things that you present. So write down the 3 things that you want your audience to remember. Then create slides that support these 3 topics.

2. Template

A complex template with company logos, copyright notices, the name of the conference, the title of the presentation, the speaker’s email address, the date, the slide number in the header and footer are distractions to the audience. Why do you need the same information on every slide? The audience knows the title of your presentation, they know your name and they should not care that this is slide 5 of 26. These details do not support and reinforce the main messages that you want your audience to remember and learn. In fact, independent research into how audiences remember and learn from multimedia presentations shows that learning is impaired with too much information on a slide. You can put these details on the printed handout version of your slides, which does not need to be the same as the version that you use from your live presentation.

3. Slide Structure

Start with a Title slide. This should be very simple, with the name of your presentation and your name. Optionally you could include the date and your company name.

The second slide is an Agenda slide. Use 1 or 2 words to name each section of your presentation. Do not talk at length about each section, save that for the main slides.

Following the Agenda slide are the main slides in your presentation.

A Summary slide states the 3 to 5 things that you want your audience to remember. These are the topics that you have just presented in detail and reinforced throughout your presentation.

The last Slide should be a duplicate of your first slide. Hint: Put in 3 of these slides at the end of your presentation. This prevents you from accidentally going past the last slide, leaving a blank screen at the end of your presentation.

4. How Many Slides

That depends on 2 factors – the amount of time you have to deliver your presentation and more importantly, how long you have to prepare your presentation. Think about each slide before you create it. For each and every slide ask yourself – “Does this slide support the 3 topics that I want the audience to remember?”

5. Images

Use images as much as possible. Be respectful of copyright issues. Do not simply copy images from the Internet. If you find an image that you are considering, read the terms and conditions of the web site and if copying is not allowed then do not use the images. Use high quality images. There are many web sites where you can purchase high quality images that are royalty free. One of these web sites is www.istock.com.

6. Reduce Text

One result of using more images is the reduction of text on your slides. Independent research into multimedia learning shows that audience retention and learning rates increase – by as much as 100% – as the amount of text on a slide decreases. PowerPoint presentations are multimedia presentations; the audience receives auditory and visual information.