Using PowerPoint

Information presented here focuses on design of PowerPoint slideshows, including appropriate use of color, graphics and animation. Detailed technical information on using PowerPoint is available through Element K, an on-line tool that can be used as a reference and source of comprehensive, self-paced tutorials. See instructions at on how to enroll and access Element K material.


General guidelines

The principles for using PowerPoint effectively relate closely to guidelines for effective use of visual aides:

  • Use text sparingly. Think in terms of a key word outline, not a narrative. Use this rough guideline: maximum of six points per slide and six words per point
  • Introduce the visual aide at the time it's needed, then remove it. Display a slide when it reinforces what you're about to discuss. Once the slide has been absorbed by the audience, remove it from screen - by using the blackout effect (" B" on keyboard) if you have more to say and you're not ready to display the next slide.
  • Use meaningful graphics. The whole point of a VISUAL aide is to provide visual reinforcement for a concept or idea. If you're talking about people, show their pictures. Numbers are easier to absorb if you use charts and graphs. The drawing tools in PowerPoint are often overlooked - these can be very useful in creating boxes, arrows and lines that illustrate organizational structures, and even the structure of concepts.
  • In designing the slide, less is more. Use the pre-selected color schemes (format ---> slide color scheme) unless you are competent in picking coordinating and contrasting colors. Keep things simple and consistent. Specific tips to help ensure simplicity and clarity:
    • Use master slides. This is kind of a template that provides consistency on each slide
    • Use a standing element (like a logo) to provide a sense of unity in the presentation
  • The overall principle in design is FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION. Use of sound, graphics, animation and other design elements should reinforce content and not simply serve to adorn slides or show off the presenter's technical prowess.

Teaching suggestions

  • Open a blank slide and type in main points and they emerge from classroom discussion
  • In a lecture outline, leave some points blank, so that during class students must figure out what's missing

Presentation suggestions

  • Keep the room lights as bright as possible; with modern high-intensity projectors, a dark room is not necessary
  • Face your audience, not the projection screen
  • Rehearse your presentation; always test your presentation on the actual computer to be used in the live presentation to be sure it will work.


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