When I was a T.A., I gave a group of students an A for their PowerPoint presentation. I told my supervising professor that the students embedded a great video and displayed a beautiful presentation. She gritted her teeth and said, “No bells and whistles.” When I asked her what that meant, she said content was everything. Niceties like video, sounds, images and color didn’t count, unless they were relevant. I finally asked, “Just a white background?” “Just a white background will do,” she replied, “But make sure they have a clear thesis statement.”
So my students learned to make PowerPoints consisting of bullets on a white background—and with a thesis statement.
I’ve since learned the proper style for making PowerPoints from authors Kai Xin, Eugene Cheng and Imran Esmail. And I wish to share their tips with you as follows:
Let visuals drive your PowerPoints. According to the authors, “While blog posts generally contain 80% text and 20% visuals, it should be in the opposite ratio for SlideShare [i.e., PowerPoint]” (37%).
I once made a narrated movie out of my PowerPoint slides. An instructor at a college helped me record the video and narration. Prior to that, I hired an artist to make visual slides after each page of bullet points. Sadly, when it came time to record the movie, I timed the visuals for less than three seconds per slide, which meant the visuals disappeared before they could be fully viewed. And the visuals were beautiful. What a waste. My movie looked like a swamp of bulleted text. The lion’s share of my movie should have been spent on visuals, not text. (And I clearly cited the artist and college instructor, of course.)
Kai Xin, Eugene Cheng and Imran Esmail say, “As a visual medium, the best SlideShares are brief in words and expansive in visuals. A good rule of thumb is to keep your text in the slides at most to 2 sentences, as to maximize punchiness and allow them to skim through your content. If you’re repurposing content from a blog post, split lengthy sentences into catchy statements that work in succession” (37%).
The authors recommend using a white background for your PowerPoint along with images with white backgrounds. As a TA, I at least got the white background part right.
Rely on lots of slides to tell your story. Kai Xin, Eugene Cheng and Imran Esmail say, “The briefer your copy, the more slides you’ll have—we recommend having loads of slides with brief text, as it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer” (48%). I’ve read two other books on PowerPoints that confirm this view. Less text per slide means you should use more slides to tell your story. Once I made a PowerPoint presentation that lasted for thirty minutes. I stuffed each slide with wordy bullet points and side images. Red glassy eyes peered at me from the audience by the five-minute point. I could’ve kept my peers bright eyed if I had used just three to seven words per slide coupled with a big image.
Tell a story. All the books on PowerPoint presentations say the same thing: turn your presentation into a story. Yes, three acts. “Ever watched a Disney movie? Notice that the underlying structure for all the movies are the same. It starts with a protagonist who decides that the status quo is no-go, goes on a journey to battle a foe, triumphs in the end and echoes the ‘moral of the story’” (42%). You’ll shine if you copy Disney and craft your PowerPoint into a three-act story structure.
The first act of your story should introduce the conflict. The second act should solve the problem. The final act should either present a call-to action or an answer to the “so what?” question. A call-to action works well for a practical presentation. For instance, a marketer’s call-to-action might be to sign up for a service or buy a product.
Authors Kai Xin, Eugene Cheng and Imran Esmail describe this as “Introduce Problem -> Solution -> Call-to-Action …. We tell the [viewers] about the problem briefly and deliver massive actionable value by listing the solutions, followed by a summary and call-to-action” (43%).
Buy your images or scour free ones. When I did design work, I preferred to pay for a subscription to a stock image service, such as Adobe Stock. I found that searching for high-quality free images took too long. But “if you’re bootstrapping and don’t wish to take the buyer’s route, you can source for commercially- free images on these sites: www.unsplash.com www.gratisography.com www.compfight.com www.freepik.com www.flaticon.com www.flickr.com While most of these photos are free to use, do check against their usage rights and credit the authors accordingly as they are usually under a creative commons license” (65%).
You now have the know-how to make spectacular presentations. So, delight your audience with your Disney-worthy PowerPoint tales.
Xin, Kai, Cheng, Eugene, & Esmail, Imran. (2016). SLIDESHARE DOMINATION How to Get 2,000,000+ Views and 400+ Monthly Leads with SlideShare. E-book.