Using PowerPoint

Using PowerPoint in your presentations can help to support your message or, if done badly, can distract and confuse your audience. What can PowerPoint do for you?

PowerPoint can help you prepare an interesting and attention-grabbing presentation.

  • By using the technology of the program you can make effective use of colour and graphics.
  • Important points can be introduced on cue and either left for the audience to reflect on or removed effortlessly.
  • When you get more confident you can add video clips and sound clips to enhance your presentation.
  • PowerPoint is a user-friendly program. It is intuitive and any person who has basic familiarity with other Microsoft programs can quickly design a simple and effective presentation.

There are, however a few things that Microsoft doesn’t tell you that will help to make your finished product more professional. Some of these are listed below.

Beware of ‘Font-a-Mania’

Some people, when faced with the large and exciting choice of fonts that are available, go overboard and try too many different combinations within the one publication. It is advisable to use no more than two or three fonts per presentation. One of these could be a serif font – one with tiny ‘legs’ on the characters such as Times New Roman. This sort of font is good for headings especially in formal presentations. The second font could be a non-serif font such as Arial – this type of font is recommended for your text points as it is easy to read. This font has no ‘legs’ and is a less formal font.


When you get into PowerPoint you will find there are a lot of templates you can use to help you with backgrounds and designs. Don’t be tempted into changing your background for every second slide. It will look tacky and unprofessional. Choose a background in keeping with your topic and maintain it throughout as it will impart a sense of unity to the whole presentation, at least until you become more experienced when you may experiment more widely.


If you are giving a computer-generated presentation using a data projector and large screen you should take care in your choice of colours for backgrounds and fonts. Contrast is the key, light fonts on dark backgrounds, or dark fronts on light backgrounds. If you have the opportunity you should view your presentation on a data projector prior to delivering it. The picture you see on your computer screen may be far different from the one projected. You need to be sure what you project is able to be easily read on the screen.

Text size

One thing certain to make your carefully designed, colour co-ordinated presentation fall flat on its face is if your audience can’t read it. Experience has shown that text needs to be a minimum of 20pt for a group to view it easily. Titles, headings and even text can of course be larger, but any smaller and you may lose your audience’s attention. Ideally no more than 6 lines should be placed on a slide. Be aware of information overload. Some things were never meant to be in electronic presentations. These include copies of Excel spreadsheets, complicated tables, large flow charts and big slabs of text. You can’t reproduce them large enough for your audience to appreciate them. If you really need them, distribute them as paper copies and make points about them in your presentation as necessary.

Clip Art and photos

Your imagination and the availability of suitable hardware to carry out your dream are the only limits to your presentation. Pictures speak a thousand words and certainly their subtle use can greatly enhance your efforts. Clip art is usually royalty- and copyright-free, provided you are not selling it on as a picture or claiming it as your own work. Again, Microsoft provides a selection of this with its Office suite. Be certain that your images are relevant and that they will get the message across. Getting photos into your presentation is as easy as taking the photo with your digital camera and downloading it directly to your computer. You can also use a scanner to insert your hard copy photos onto your computer and then into your presentation.

Running your show

Here again Mr Gates offers a wealth of opportunity for you to make your presentation eye-catching with many choices as to how your slides change, appear and disappear. The same rules apply as for fonts and colours. Don’t be carried away. Experiment, explore and be amazed, but at the end of the day choose one or two effects and keep them constant throughout the presentation. PowerPoint gives you the option to run your slides automatically leaving you free to concentrate on your speech. Extreme caution should be used when deciding to use this function; it is only for the very confident, well-rehearsed speaker as time, and automatic slides, wait for no one!


Technology is wonderful but it has been known to fail at the last minute. Remember, your slides are a speaking aid. You need to know you have contingency plans in place for equipment failure. If possible, you should be able to get your message across without any technology at all. It is a big ask in these high tech days, but it can be done.

In Conclusion

This is a brief overview of what PowerPoint can do for you, if you want to know moretake a training course. Experiment at home with different effects and try a few basic presentations out on your family before venturing out before a group. As with all things, the more you practise, the more proficient you will become.

Reproduced from the Rostrum publication “Tips on Public Speaking and Meeting Procedures. Vol. 1” -a collection of 30 handouts by Ron Johnson.


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