I have a friend who has his doubts about
PowerPoint presentations. He likes to express those doubts by giving a talk
entitled, "Where’s the power? What’s the point?"
His point: If you have nothing worthwhile to
say, dressing it up in fancy slides with swooping text and glitzy sound effects
won’t help. Substance is what counts.
As a presenter, I like using PowerPoint.
Although I don’t like having the slides in a fixed sequence, and I worry that
dimming the lights will give my audience unneeded assistance in falling asleep,
I do like the way PowerPoint enables me to emphasize and illustrate my points
with highlighted text, graphs, and photos. There’s something about those big,
fat, color letters that makes the words more interesting.
Here’s my advice, from a writer’s point of
view, on how to use PowerPoint effectively:
your text brief.
Reduce your paragraphs to sentences, and your
sentences to key words. For transparencies there was the old rule of 36 –
no more than six lines of text and six words per line. With PowerPoint we should
probably modify that rule to the rule of 40 – no more than five bulleted items
and eight words per line.
all items in parallel structure.
Your viewer, like your reader, expects
consistency. If you break your pattern, you break your promise. Note, for
example, the effect of this sentence: "She was healthy, wealthy, and an
If the first item in your bulleted list begins
with a verb, every item must begin with a verb. If your first item is a sentence
fragment, every item must be a sentence fragment.
Nowhere is nonparallel structure more
painfully evident than in PowerPoint. To make an error is one thing. To project
it in oversized text on a large screen is like shouting, "Hey, look at my
a simple, consistent design.
Remember, it’s your words that count. Use a
simple template that doesn’t overpower your text. Choose a design that makes the
words stand out rather than one that obscures them.
"Chartjunk" refers to too much of a good
thing. If you use a plethora of highlighting techniques – too many colors, too
many sizes and types of fonts – you create a jumble rather than an orderly
pattern that directs your viewers’ attention to your key points.
restraint with animation and customized effects.
Likewise, use builds, transitions, animation,
and sound effects sparingly. My preference is to use no sound effects and to
have text simply appear rather than have it swoop or fly in or materialize in
Use nothing smaller than 24-point, bold
typeface, and use contrast and colors for emphasis. Note that different
projectors may alter your color scheme slightly and wash out your colors, so
don’t rely solely on colors to distinguish your points. Also, avoid using green
and red for contrast because color-blind viewers cannot distinguish those
Finally, never forget to ask the key
questions: Where’s the power? What’s the point? Ten times zero is still zero.