Make Your Point - How to create winning PowerPoint presentations.

The symptoms are already appearing: Your stomach is in a knot; you're sweating; you don't want to eat; your mind won't stop racing. You've got a presentation to make tomorrow, and you have no idea how you're going to pull it off.

What's worse, you know next to nothing about that ubiquitous professional presentation tool, Microsoft PowerPoint.

No worries! We're here to help. Whether you've never loaded PowerPoint in your life or you're a casual twice-a-year PowerPoint user who forgets the basics between projects, this article has something for you.

First, we'll help you think about the structure of a presentation--because technology can't help you if you have the wrong game plan to begin with. Then we'll show you how to create basic slide shows, how to spiff them up so they keep the audience from falling asleep, and how to avoid common design errors.

A quick note: Our tips are geared toward PowerPoint 2000, but most of this advice will apply to the 97 edition, as well. When program functions differ between the two versions, we'll point that out.

Before You Start

You may already have an idea of what you want your presentation to look like. Good. But hold on to your laser pointer, because you need to plan a few details first. Jumping into design mode without planning your presentation's structure first is like traveling to an unknown country without a map or basic supplies. So here's a checklist you should consult before you embark on this visual safari:

- First things first: Are you absolutely sure you need a slide show? Often it's easier to get your point across by taking your clients (or colleagues) to lunch and discussing the issue at hand in a relaxed atmosphere.

Many people genuinely despise watching presentations, and the last thing you want to do is alienate your audience. If you're going to be making a pitch to potential clients, do the smart thing and ask them before the meeting if they have any objection to watching a slide show. If they don't object but ask you to make it brief, keep that point in mind when you build the presentation.

- Are you expecting a captive audience (such as a room full of conference attendees) or an interactive session, whereby each slide is likely to be interrupted with questions or comments? Since you probably have a target presentation length, sketch out a rough "storyboard" with this factor in mind. Try to plan for up to one minute per slide if your audience is going to be passive, and longer if you expect questions. For a 15-minute presentation, use no more than 15 slides; make it 10 or less if you're expecting to have a dialogue with the audience.

- Slides are just highlights of points you're trying to make. People won't read a lengthy report projected on screen. Remember to summarize important points on the slides, use charts and graphs as often as you can, and keep more verbose content on handouts or in e-mailed follow-ups.

- Are you planning to use specific graphics (such as a company logo) or charts? Have them ready--that is, on your hard disk--before you start.

- Think of your presentation environment. If you're going to have a projector (and the lights will be dimmed), the design rules will be different from when your audience is going to sit next to you, watching your tiny notebook display. Enter too much text on a slide displayed three feet away from your audience, and you'll be facing squinting, irritable readers. On the other hand, the same slide may be much more legible when projected.

- Avoid sound effects at all cost. The point of a presentation is to serve as a visual while you speak.

Your audience doesn't need the extra distraction.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Yael Li-Ron

PC World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?