your PowerPoint is not your presentation

How to design a professional PowerPoint

Actually, your PowerPoint isn’t your presentation—it is there to support you and what you’re going to say. THAT is your presentation. (See previous post for tips on creating content for a persuasive presentation.)

A professional PowerPoint does not have a lot of text

Don’t bore your audience with lots of text. People want snippets and sound bites that reinforce your message. Make the focus on you, not on your wordy slides. And please, don’t read to them!


Some bullets are okay in a PowerPoint

Some PowerPoint experts believe slides should seldom contain text—that it’s all about evoking feelings. I believe they are okay in moderation. Use images and color to support the feelings you want your audience to experience.


A professional PowerPoint is easy to read.

Your audience should not have to work to read your content. In fact, they won’t—they’ll tune out. For text that doesn’t strain your audience, consider the following:

Figure-ground contrast:

This just means that there’s a marked distinction between your text color and the background color. Black text on a white background has the most contrast and is the easiest to read. White text on black background also has maximum contrast, but is harder to read in large amounts. (If you do use white text on a dark background, make the text larger.) Colors that are similar in value (lightness and darkness) are difficult to read, like the gray text on teal. Colors that are complementary (opposite each other on the color wheel) together—like the red on green—will give your audience a headache. And the rainbow text? Please. You’re not in elementary school anymore.


Typography is important for readabilityTypography:

Another consideration in readability is the typeface (also referred to as font—we won’t go into the technical definitions here). Some fonts are difficult to read and should NEVER be used. Some fonts work well for striking headings, but should not be used for text.

There are two major categories of fonts: Serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have little lines/feet on the letters. Sans serif fonts do not (“sans” is French for “without”). There is some debate as to what is better. In general, sans serif fonts are easier to read when projected and are the preferred font for body text areas in PowerPoint. Limit yourself to two or three fonts—perhaps one for headings, another for body text, and another for subheadings or captions.

Some typefaces have a bad reputation. Don’t ever use Papyrus—it’s been overdone. As has Times New Roman and Arial. Use Comic Sans only if you don’t want to be taken seriously. Avoid the default fonts in PowerPoint—everyone has seen them.


Do not center your body text. To read efficiently, we have trained our eyes to snap to the left to begin reading the next line. In centered text, the reader has to work to find the beginning of that next line. This is annoying and distracting. Remember, you want their focus on you, not on trying to

read your slide.

A professional PowerPoint is not cluttered

Don’t feel you have to fill every space on your slide. White space allows your audience to rest their eyes and focus on your important message.


Engage the audience with visuals.

Granted, there are too many on this page. But you get the idea. The brain processes visual images much faster than text.

By the way…avoid clip art. It will date you.


A professional PowerPoint is not full of crazy transitions and animations

A few simple transitions and animations can be effective in keeping the audience’s attention (or bringing it back). Keep it simple—you don’t want your presentation to look like a third-grader made it, one who’s just discovered these features.


A professional PowerPoint uses color wisely

Again, don’t make your audience work hard and don’t give them a headache. Color is fantastic for adding interest and creating a mood, but it should not overwhelm. Try warm colors—reds, oranges, yellows—when talking about food. Blue evokes trust. You’ll see green on presentations about finances or the environment. Black can be edgy and sophisticated. A Google search about color and emotion yields fascinating reading.
A professional PowerPoint is original

That’s it! You’ve got the basics of designing an effective, professional PowerPoint. These tips also work for websites, posters, brochures, church bulletins, campaign flyers, and business cards. The opportunities to stretch your new design muscles are endless!

Now be confident! You’ve got a persuasive presentation with great content coupled with a professional PowerPoint! Go change the world!