Quality is intentional not accidental
All of us want to create and present great PowerPoint shows, but how do we know if we have achieved our goal? In trying to define quality in PowerPoint we are tempted to echo the famous 1964 statement of Justice Potter Stewart regarding what constitutes obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” A substantial degree of subjectivity persists in any attempt to be definitive, yet we can all agree on a few essentials: your slides must be readable, clear, and memorable for PowerPoint to be effective.
In keeping with these essential principles, here are four rules to follow to improve the quality of your PowerPoint.
1. Remember less is more
One of the most common mistakes people make in designing their own PowerPoints is trying to get too much information on a single slide. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if your presentation consisted of a written-out script, consider each paragraph of that script to be a separate slide. Then, summarize that paragraph into three or four lines, omitting all of the articles (“a” or “the”) and as many forms as possible of the verb “to be.”
For example, let’s say the summary statement of a paragraph of your script is: “Unexpected noise is a distraction–please turn off the cell phones you brought or set them on the silent mode now.” Your slide might read: “Avoid distractions. Please mute your phone now.” The text on your slide serves to remind you of what you are going to say; it is not your word-for-word script. If you have ever seen and heard a presenter read word for word from a PowerPoint, you know how boring it inevitably becomes.
2. Back away from the edge
PowerPoint slides are designed to contain color and graphics all the way to the edge, but because the various presentation vehicles–monitors, flatscreens, projections–contain a degree of variability around the edges, avoid allowing the text on your slide or any essential part of your graphics to get close to the edge. You may find when you are trying to present that it gets cut off. In fact, back away from all of the edges–top, bottom, right, and left–by at least an inch. This will ensure your resulting slide is less susceptible to embarrassing cut-offs.
3. Apply the rule of thirds
Photographers and artists scrupulously avoid putting their subjects into the exact center of the field because they realize how static and boring formalized symmetry can be. Instead, they draw imaginary “tic-tac-toe” lines, dividing the horizontal and vertical space into thirds. They then place the focal points on one or more of the crosshairs. This makes the composition more naturally dynamic. Take a look at the 1945 Pulitzer-Prize-winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal, “Old Glory Goes Up on Mt. Suribachi [Iwo Jima],” for example. The focal points are the flag (upper-left crosshair) and the marines raising it (lower-right crosshair), creating a diagonal that runs along the flagpole through the center of the photo. If you are consciously targeting the four strategic potential focal points (where the lines of your “tic-tac-toe” cross, you automatically ratchet up the punch-impact of your slide.
4. Point to the center
Do what you can to draw the viewer’s eye toward the center of the slide. You can do this by paying attention to where the graphics point. If they are pointing away from the center, either move them to the other side of the slide or flip them so that they now point toward the center. If your graphic has motion (such as a baseball in flight or a moving automobile), allow more space in front of the motion than behind. If your graphic includes a human figure, place the graphic so that the human is looking at, turning toward, or pointing at the most important text on your slide.
Observe the difference!
If you apply these four rules carefully and consistently, you will discern a marked improvement in your PowerPoint presentations. Each slide will be simple and direct. None of what is essential will be cut off. It will be well composed in the field, with graphics that move the eye toward the center of the slide. The graphics will lead the eye toward the text, not away from it. All of these elements will support the presentation and greatly enhance the effectiveness of your communication.