With any form of creative design, there are good ways and not so good ways to go about it. That goes for PowerPoint, too.

A PowerPoint presentation is made up of different visual elements: layout, structure, design, text, images and colours. It may also include video or audio. There are also non-visual elements – such as pacing, tone and rhythm – to consider.

A good PowerPoint slide deck supports a talk or presentation. Not the other way around. The application software was designed to display graphical information to support the speaker. And that’s how it should be.

To create visually engaging presentations in PowerPoint it pays to follow strong design principles and best practices for slide design.

8 Key Design Principles for Better PowerPoint Presentations

Here are eight key principles to follow when creating a PowerPoint presentation:

1. Keep it Simple (but not simplistic)

A presentation is about your audience and how you connect with them. That connection – and your message – can be lost if you have a stack of slides which are overly ‘busy’, complicated or loaded with text.

Think about what you want to say and convey before you start designing.

2. Have a Consistent Theme (topic and visual)

A presentation should have a clear theme, title and core message. That helps the audience to engage with the content, and to understand and remember it.

The savvy Assistant can build a PowerPoint presentation from scratch or use a design template. Mastering the Slide Master helps to create and apply changes to the formatting and design of each slide, efficiently and without fuss.

3. Use a Logical Structure and Flow

The human brain is hard wired for story. It also searches for familiar patterns. So, your audience is looking for a beginning, middle and end – with each ‘chapter’ of the presentation’s story in the right order.

4. Keep Wording Short and to the Point

One of the main reasons why ‘Death by PowerPoint’ became a phrase was not PowerPoint itself but how people were using the application. Slides loaded with text, repeated verbatim by the presenter. A dull and lazy approach for which the technology wrongly took the blame.

Whilst you can turn a Word document into a slide presentation deck (and Copilot can help you do this) you want to avoid filling slides with tons of text.

Keep text short and to the point. Use Smart Art instead of bullet points they are far more engaging than a boring bulleted list. Sometimes an image with no words is all a slide requires. The presenter adds the narration to tell the story.

5. Use Images, Graphics and Charts

Pictures are often remembered better than words. Images that represent common objects, when combined with short and punchy text, can be the most memorable combination for an audience.

Good quality graphics can enhance a presentation. Avoid clip art – it looks dated and unprofessional. Online resources for images and graphics include Pexels, Unsplash and Pixabay. Subscription services for visual resources are available from the likes of Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, iStockphoto and Storyblocks.

Did you know that with your Microsoft 365 business subscription you get access to a full Creative Commons Library of online images. Use them freely within your PowerPoint presentation but do not take them outside of the Microsoft Application ecosystem.

Graphs and charts are a great way to represent information in a visual way. However, principle #1 of KeepIt Simple applies to visuals as well as to text.

6. Be Smart with Animations and Transitions

To engage the audience, using Animations and Transitions for polished presentations can be a good way to go. However, you have to be smart and use any special effects or motion effects wisely.

Used well, the presentation is enhanced. Just ‘thrown in’ for the sake of it and it could distract from the power of the presentation’s message.

7. Make Clever Use of White Space and Colour

You don’t have to fill up an entire slide with a logo, footer, or unnecessary graphics or text box. If an element can be removed from a slide without diminishing the message, remove it or change it. The resulting white space helps the audience to see the message.

Colours evoke feelings and responses. They can increase engagement and improve learning. The right choices can make all the difference to a presentation. Use a maximum of three or four colours.

8. Consider Adding Interactivity and Embedded Media for Greater Engagement

The value of introducing interactive elements to enhance your PowerPoint presentation should be obvious. Video and audio clips add an extra dimension to any presentation, and can be a good way to introduce, support or finish a point.

Interactive surveys, polls, quizzes and forms help to involve the audience, test user knowledge, gather feedback and gain insights.

Now you have some principles, let me share some tips with you.

10 Top Tips for Best Practice in PowerPoint Presentation Design

Slides are not the presentation. Slides support the story being told in the presentation. The design of presentations is about clarity, connection and communication.

Tip #1. Let the Slide Master do the Work

For the savvy Assistant who wants all their slides to have consistent fonts, layouts, headings, images and logos, the quick answer is the Slide Master. Each change or customisation you make will carry across to other slides in the master design.

Tip #2. Get Quickly Creative with Designer

If you are not so confident on the design side or want some inspiration, you can use the Designer tool in PowerPoint. Start a slide with text or an image and PowerPoint Designer automatically gives you a selection of professional-looking designs to choose from.

You can select your slide size (standard 4:3 or wide 16:9 ratio) and format the background with colour fill, gradient fill or pattern fill to add some visual interest.

Tip #3. Get Everything in Order with the Slide Sorter

When putting together a presentation, you want to ensure that all the required content is included. But you also want to maintain a logical narrative flow and have the highest clarity for each slide.

By using the Slide Sorter, the savvy Assistant can view slides alongside each other and see how the story structure looks. You can also organise your PowerPoint slides into sections. If a slide is in the wrong place, move it. If a slide looks too ‘busy’, split it into two or three slides instead of one.

Tip #4. Make It Easy for People to Engage with and Remember the Content

Create an Outline Slide to give people a ‘taster’ of what they can expect in the presentation. Use a Welcome Slide to add a title, description and presenter name.

A Menu Slide lets you place the contents of your presentation, so you can jump to it as required, for example during a Q&A session. A Summary Slide wraps up with the key points at the end, to help people remember the message.

Tip #5. Pick Your Colours with Care

Cool colours, such as blue and green, tend to be better for backgrounds. Warm colours, like orange and red, are usually best for objects, including text, in the foreground.

If presenting in a dark room then a dark (e.g. dark blue or grey) background with white or light text is good. If, as is advisable, most of the room lights are going to stay on, then a white background with black or dark text works much better.

Tip #6. Avoid Fancy Fonts

As with colours, there are so many choices with fonts. Avoid fancy or calligraphic fonts because they can make it difficult for people to read the text.

Fonts should aid readability. A sans serif typeface (one without fancy strokes or tails) is usually considered best for projected slides. If you’re sharing a presentation on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the choice of typeface is less significant.

Tip #7. Apply the Rule of Thirds

If you look at great photographs closely, you’ll notice that they tend to follow the rule of thirds. Picture your image on a PowerPoint slide divided into thirds, left to right and top to bottom. The four intersection points are where the most interesting elements of your slide should go.

Tip #8. Leverage the Power of Copilot

The savvy Assistant can use the AI tool Copilot in PowerPoint to create, edit, structure and summarise presentations. It is a handy tool for giving you ideas and getting you started on the design.

Tip #9. Create Speaker Notes

One of the most useful features of PowerPoint is Speaker Notes, a place where you can put helpful facts and notes for the presenter’s reference as they talk through each slide.

Tip #10. Back Up Your Presentations

You never know when the tech gremlins may strike, so always be prepared. Make sure you have a secure copy of your presentation in PowerPoint and save a version in PDF just in case. (Note: animations, GIFs and transitions won’t function in the PDF format but at least the presenter will have the slide content to follow).

Better safe than sorry.

Get Creative with PowerPoint Design and Stand Out as a VA, PA or EA

PowerPoint is not boring. A dull presentation is boring. A poor presenter will tend to blame the tool.

The savvy Assistant understands how PowerPoint can help to create highly visual, engaging and interactive presentations. When you have PowerPoint skills mastery you will be able to take any presentation to a higher level.

Presentations are a popular part of internal and external communications so it’s worth knowing the essentials of PowerPoint – to save time and effort, now and with all future presentations.

Being known as a bit of a whizz at PowerPoint will help to make any growth-minded VA, PA or EA stand out from the crowd.

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