Effective PowerPoint Design for Business Presentations

PowerPoint slides, for better or for worse, have become so common in business presentations that they are all but required. We have come to associate PowerPoint with dry, dull presentations, but when combined with the storytelling techniques we shared back in October, well-designed slides can keep your audience engaged and help them remember key points. Here are some tips for effective PowerPoint design: 

Your slides should support your presentation, they shouldn’t be your presentation.
Since humans aren’t great at multitasking, it’s difficult for us to read and listen to someone speaking at the same time. If your slides contain a wall of text, your audience will tune you out in favour of reading your slides. Putting a single keyword or phrase on a slide is a much more effective way to get your point across - the audience will stay focussed on you, and they’ll be much more likely to remember those few words on the slide than an entire paragraph of text. If your audience will need to reference information from your presentation later, consider creating a separate handout or another version of your slides to distribute.

Less is more.
The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is doubly true for PowerPoint slides. Try using a single image to create a visual association for your talking point. Make sure to use a high-resolution image, and avoid using clip art, which can look cheesy and dated. On that note, avoid flashy transitions or animations, and stay away from sound effects - using any of these is a sure way to lose credibility with your audience. 

Your presentation isn’t an eye exam.
To ensure maximum legibility, use a white background with black text. Your font size should be no smaller than 30pt. If you find that you can’t fit all of your text on a slide at 30 pt font, you probably have too much text. If you must use bullet points, use no more than 5 per slide, and make sure each point is no longer than 1 line. Use sans-serif fonts (such as Arial or Helvetica) rather than serif fonts like Times New Roman. Serif fonts are designed to be used in print documents, but do not work well for onscreen presentations.

Use charts and graphs when appropriate.
When it’s time to talk numbers, you may find it helpful to summarise your data with a table, chart or graph. Keep the following design tips in mind:

  • Pie charts are used to show percentages. Use a maximum of 4-6 “slices” of the pie, and highlight the most important slice by using a contrasting colour. 
  • Vertical bar charts are used to show changes in quantity over time. Use a maximum of 4-8 bars and use natural increments for your axes.
  • Horizontal bar charts are used to compare quantities. Organise the chart by putting the largest quantity at the top and smallest quantity at the bottom.
  • Line charts are used to demonstrate trends. Avoid using flashy graphics or arrows.
  • Tables are used for side-by-side comparisons of quantitative data. Highlight important numbers in bold so they will quickly stand out to the audience.

The “less is more” rule applies for charts and graphs as well - avoid using too much colour, get rid of unnecessary grid lines, and use as little text as possible. 

Create a (simple) template for your presentations.
If you find yourself giving presentations often, you can save yourself some time by creating a set of slides that can be used as a template. Your template should include a title and end slide, a section header slide, and a content slide. Reserve your company's branding and logo for the title and end slides to keep the rest of your presentation looking clean. Your section headers can include company color schemes, but your content slides should ideally have a white background with black text. 

For more information on designing effective charts, graphs, and PowerPoint slides, check out the following resources: