Farid Julianto

Do you struggle with getting the best out of your PowerPoint? Do the many possible color schemes and combinations confuse you?

Wonder no more as in this post we will go over five simple tips to help elevate your PowerPoint to the next level. These tips will focus on maximizing the legibility of your slides as well as their ability to maintain the audience’s attention.

One: understand how the different colors on the slide can complement or contrast with each other

Understanding and successfully taking advantage of colors can really help improve your PowerPoint. To do this, let’s take a look at color wheels. There are a variety of color wheels you can use, but know that the theory still applies to the other color wheels as well. Colors close to each other on the wheel are good for harmony and unity, while colors that are far apart are good for contrasts. Using the RBY-based color wheel shown in figure 1, red will have good harmony with orange while placing red next to green will give good contrast.


Figure 1. A color wheel based on Red-Blue-Yellow


Similarly, remember to maintain a high contrast between the font color and the background color. To keep things simple, use a dark color for the font if you have a lighter color for the background, and use a light color for the font if you have a darker color for the background. Keep in mind that ‘background color’ in this sense can also refer to any images you put on the slides. By maintaining higher contrast, you will reduce the risk of making your words illegible to your audience.

For a concrete example, take a look at Figure 2. The image shows the same slide with sample text with a white font color for the text. The difference is that the left image uses a black background (high contrast) and the right uses a light background (low contrast).


Figure 2 Example of a slide with high contrast in color (left) and a slide with low contrast in color (right)


Two: only include the important parts of the presentation on the slide

There are a variety of ways to do this. Removing images that only have the role of being ‘cute’ and/or ‘funny’, but not provide any additional information to the audience. Condensing points on the slide to only the key words of the sentence (the points can then be elaborated upon during the presentation itself). And instead of listing things in one, long point on the slide using individual bullet points instead. The reasons why this step is so important to remember include among others:

  1. There is limited space on the slide. The title of the slide can take up to thirty percent of the slide, so you want the slide to convey as much useful information as possible.
  2. Having too much information on the slide will encourage the audience to focus on your slide instead of your presentation.
  3. Having too much information on the slide will also make it likelier that you, as the presenter, will read what is on the slide instead of presenting the slide.

Three: maintain consistency throughout the presentation

Whenever you write too many words in a textbox in PowerPoint, the program will automatically adjust the font size to accommodate the word count. However, this will create inconsistencies in font size, and inconsistencies will potentially lead to distraction. Therefore, it is important that you maintain a consistent structure from start to finish in terms of the font type, font size, font color, background color, and positioning of text on the slide.

Four: understand the importance of position on the slide

This part will depend on the culture of the audience you are presenting to, but the general idea remains the same. There is a natural reading order that people grow up on and adapting your slide’s layout to benefit this will help guide your audience to view the information in the right order.

The reading order in the English language is from the top-left of the screen moving to the top-right of the screen, then down to the bottom-left of the screen and finishing in the bottom-right of the screen. So, placing the more important pieces of information on the top half of the slide will help them stand out to your audience as that is where your audience will look at first. As an example, let’s take a look at Figure 3. Notice how one slide guides the audience to the point of interest on the slide (the sample text) while the other slide requires some effort to try and find the necessary information.


Figure 3 Example of slide with positioning in the top half (left) and slide with positioning in the bottom half (right)

Five: learn how to take advantage of animations and transition effects

There will come a point at which the desire to make our presentation flashier comes up, and PowerPoint does provide a wide variety of options to do this. From entrance/exit effects like Grow/Shrink & Turn, Swivel, and Bounce to emphasis effects like Color Pulse and Teeter. Unfortunately, it is highly recommended you avoid these for the following reasons:

  1. These effects are a distraction to the presentation. Your audience will focus more on the flashy effects than on your presentation itself.
  2. These effects can lag out, especially if you try to use an effect for a long line of text (which you want to avoid anyway, see tip number two).
  3. These effects take a significant amount of time. Most presentations are on a strict time constraint, so wasting two to five seconds on animations might be more than you can afford.

Having said this, transition effects can be helpful if used correctly. You can have more text on the screen by incorporating fade in/out effects to add and remove text on the slide, respectively. You can use one of the ‘emphasis’ effects to emphasize a certain part of the slide for your audience to pay attention to.

This does not mean that you should avoid animations and transition effects completely. They can play a significant role in elevating your PowerPoint to the next level. All it takes is for you to learn and understand which parts of the presentation needs effects as well as which and how many effects that you should use.