PowerPoint in public speaking really is a double-edged sword. It can really help a speaker … and it can really hinder them, too.

Knowing your way around a good slide-deck is key to speaking success. Like any visual aid, a set of PowerPoint slides needs to add something to your presentation.

Don’t think of them as your own notes, projected onto a screen – they’re not for you, and you shouldn’t read off them. Instead, consider them as a separate element of your presentation – one of many spinning plates in your speech, an independent addition that you could even do without if necessary.

A good set of PowerPoint visuals might help your audience with your structure. They might provide graphic representations of something you’ve said – a chart, graph or diagram, perhaps. Or – and this is the trickiest balance to strike – they might add emphasis to or reiteration of your key points.

What, then, are the keys to making effective slides? The good news is that the rules of thumb are pretty straightforward. Slides can be tricky … but the pitfalls are obvious enough to avoid.

Keep Them Simple

The temptation with slides is to go all out: lots of colour, loads of animation, pictures and clipart and spritzy templates. Resist this urge. Simple, clean slides will draw attention to what matters: your content. Just as when you speak, concentrate on allowing your audience to focus on, and take home, your key messages.

Keep Them Short

Don’t put too many words on a slide. Keep to a larger font size – use a 44-point font for a title and 32-point for a bullet – and limit yourself to a very small number of words, no more than 5 bullets on a slide. If you make your audience read more, then they’re not listening to you.

Keep Them Few

This is the most important one: don’t over-use slides. We’ve all seen the twenty-minute presentation with sixty-four slides … but fewer of us can remember it! You should be concentrating at all times on a few central themes; you only need as many slides as you have core messages. Don’t fill every second with a slide.

Of course, fine-tuning how your slides interact with your presentation – when to switch between them, how to draw attention to them, and how to draw attention away from them – is another skill entirely. These simple rules, however, are the absolute foundations of good PowerPoint practice … and will help you avoid sliding around too much on stage!

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