6 Tips For Making PowerPoint Work With Your Next Speech, Not Against It

by drjim on July 22, 2014

Your speech should not be fighting against your PowerPoint slides

Your speech should not be fighting against your PowerPoint slides

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How many times have you been asked to give a speech and the way that you got ready for it was to sit down and create a whole bunch of PowerPoint (or Keynote) slides? Yep, I’ve done the same thing. Hopefully we all know that a speech is really so much more than just a bunch of slides. However, the slides that we use can help to make our speech that much more effective. How can we create slides that will help, not hinder, our next speech?

6 Tips For Making Better Slides

It is possible to give a speech without using any slides. Given the importance of public speaking, this is the right way to start to think about your next speech: how would I do it without any slides? Once you can picture what this would look like and you’ve got your speech built, then it’s time to come back and start to add slides.

The purpose of using slides in your next speech needs to be to make a great speech even better. Each slide that you show to your audience needs to enhance the point that you are trying to make in your speech at that time. You don’t want to confuse your audience and you don’t want to take away from what you are trying to communicate.

Here are 6 tips to keep in mind when you are deciding how you want the slides that will support your speech to look:

  1. Keep It Simple: The PowerPoint tool comes with a lot of options that can be used to add cheesy effects to any slide. Avoid the temptation to dress up your slides using all of the tools at your disposal and instead keep your focus on simple basic designs. Your audience will thank you for this.
  2. Make Your Text Easy To Read: Yes, I know that you have a virtually unlimited number of fonts that are available for you to use, but don’t. Instead, choose to use sans serf fonts (the simple looking ones without the fancy details). The best fonts for use with a PowerPoint slide include Arial, Helvetica, or Calibri. These fonts tend to be the easiest to read on screens.
  3. Use Decorative Fonts Sparingly: I know that I can’t talk you out of not using all of those fonts that you have at your fingertips, so let’s see if I can get you to use them only occasionally. Try to use decorative fonts only for slide headers, and then only if they’re easy to read. Generally speaking, decorative fonts are hard to read and should only be used for large headlines at the top of the page. I recommend that you stick to a classy serif font like Georgia or Baskerville.
  4. Love That Contrast: The worst thing that you can do is to put dark text on a dark background or light text on a light background. Instead, put dark text on a light background. It turns out that this is the easiest to read. If you have to use a dark background (if your company uses a standard template with a dark background) make sure your text is quite light (white, cream, light grey, or pastels) and maybe increase the font size.
  5. Stay Out Of The Middle Of The Road: When you are adding text to a slide, you are going to want to align your text to the left or to the right. Centered text is harder to read and looks amateurish. Align your text with a right-hand or left-hand baseline – it will look better and be easier to follow.
  6. Reduce, Reduce, Reduce: Always make sure that you avoid clutter. Keep the amount of material that you have on a slide to a minimum: a headline, a few bullet points, maybe an image – anything more than that and you risk losing your audience as they sort it all out.

What All Of This Means For You

As speakers, our goal is to be able to connect with our audience. It takes a lot of effort to create and deliver a speech. We want to maximize the impact that our speech is going to have. PowerPoint slides can help to make our speech do a better job of getting our point across to our audience and enhance the benefits of public speaking.

However, if we aren’t careful, our PowerPoint slides can both distract and confuse our audience. That’s why we need to take the time to create slides that will work with our speech, not against it. We’ve discussed 6 different tips that will help us to make slides that will complement our next speech.

Making high quality slides that act as an effective part of your next speech does not require a degree in art. Rather, what is required is an understanding of what it is going to take in order to connect with your audience. Use these tips and watch your next set of PowerPoint slides help your speech to become even more effective.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you should put any text on your next set of PowerPoint slides?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

We all share the same goal: we’d like to be able to deliver a great speech. However, in order to do that, a number of different things have to come together at the same time for us. These include such things as having a good speech, having a receptive audience, and just a little bit of luck. I can’t do anything about that luck thing, but I think that I’ve got a few suggestions that will help with everything else.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Wallace July 29, 2014 at 9:44 am

G’day Jim,

I concur with everything except 5. The problem with left justification is that (assuming you minimize the amount of text you have) you will leave a lot of empty space on the right side that a) draws the viewers eyes, and b) entices you to complicate your slide with “chart junk”.

I find that a maximum of 4 lines of text (no bullets) with no more than 4 words/line, centered in the slide, works. If you have more lines of text or more words/line then you may want to rethink the slide.

As always, YMMV.

Reply

drjim August 1, 2014 at 8:43 am

Brad: You do make a good point. However, those of us in the Western world always read from left to right and if you center your text you are making it harder for us to discover where we need to start reading. Although you do make a good point — when I see a blank space, I start thinking about what clip art I can drop in there…!

Reply

Brad Wallace August 1, 2014 at 9:36 am

drjim: This is true if you drop in all the “bullets” at once, but not if you call them up one-by-one as needed. This has a couple of benefits. First, it minimizes (further) the text that your audience needs to read (minimizing the time that they are ignoring you since they can’t read and listen simultaneously). Second, it keeps the audience from reading all your bullets at once (which makes the problem above worse). This also means that the audience is less likely to know what you will be talking about for the next 2-5 minutes and thus are less likely to tune you out.

As always, YMMV, and I know that people have strong opinions on the “all bullets vs. one-at-a-time,” but – as long as your “bullets” are only a few words (i.e. don’t take up more than one line) I find this works well.

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Julie August 2, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for the post. Every time I hear someone say they would never use Power Point I think maybe they just don’t know how to use it effectively. Everyone learns in a different way and visual learning is powerful if you know how to do it right.

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