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OK, look. We need to have a talk. A lot of you are out there giving lectures, presentations, and workshops, and your slideshows need work. Maybe not all of them, but definitely most. I thought I got the message out there a few years ago when I urged people to read Presentation Zen, the book that forever changed my own slideshows. But I didn’t have much of an audience back then, and since that time I’ve seen far too many PowerPoints and other slideshow presentations that still appear to be suffering from some very fixable problems.

So I’m going back in. I’ve put together a list of seven things you can do to make your slideshows better. A lot better. Here we go.

1. Put it in Presentation Mode (please!!)

I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down to listen to a presentation, and watched in horror as the presenter simply scrolled through the slides while still in editing mode, where the featured slide takes up about half the screen, the thumbnails of the other slides are visible on the left, and the editing toolbar is still visible across the top. No no no no nooooo!!!

 
A PowerPoint in editing mode. Do not give your presentation in editing mode.
 

In both PowerPoint and Google Slides, there’s a button you can click to put your slide deck in presentation mode, where the entire screen is filled with just one slide and the animations work as they are supposed to. Doing this gives the audience a rich, full-screen experience with each slide, one at a time, which is much more pleasing than looking at the back end of it all.

 
The same PowerPoint slide in slideshow mode. Much better. Do this.
 

To find presentation mode in PowerPoint, click Slide Show on the top menu, then choose From Beginning or From Current Slide. In Google Slides, go to the top right and look for the Present button. From there, you’ll have several options for putting your slideshow in fullscreen mode.

2. Cut Way Back on Your Text

Slides are meant to supplement and enhance your presentation, to provide visual interest and add new dimensions to your message. If your presentation is going to be memorable, the audience should get something from both you AND the slides. The slides themselves shouldn’t BE the presentation.

This seems like common sense, but somehow we have arrived at a place where many, many presenters use the slideshow to deliver the whole presentation: They put ALL the information on the slides and assign themselves the role of simply dictating that information to the audience. Once your audience realizes this is what you’re going to do for every slide, they immediately start looking for ways to occupy their brains for the foreseeable future.

 
A slide with lots and lots and LOTS of text.
 

I can hear your protests now: But I have information to give my audience! If it’s not on the slide, they may not remember it. Even more importantly, I MIGHT NOT REMEMBER IT EITHER!

Not to worry. Here are some specific ways you can pull text OFF of your slides while still giving the exact same amount of information to your audience:

 
This slide contains the same items as the slide above, but the definitions have been removed.
The presenter can simply explain the definitions, then include them in a handout later.
 

3. Update Your Assets 

One of the simplest ways to improve your slideshows is to update outdated artwork and fonts. 

 
This slide has outdated clip art and uses Comic Sans, which is arguably the
most maligned font in the history of fonts.
 
 
The same slide with updated graphics and font. Ahhh.
 

4. Create Previews and Signposts

It’s difficult to sit through a presentation when you really have no idea how long it’s going to be or how many major points are going to be covered. If you let your audience know they are in the capable hands of a presenter who has put together a well-organized presentation, they’ll be able to relax and concentrate on your message.

 
A preview slide lets attendees know where you’re headed.
 

You can accomplish this by offering a preview of your presentation at the beginning. This can be a simple slide that lists the major topics you’re going to cover. Then, as you move through the presentation, update them by returning to that list and showing them where you are.

5. Go Light on the Animations

Most tools offer huge collections of animations you can use in your slideshows: You can have bullet points explode onto your slides, bring a picture in with a slow, dramatic spin, and fade from one slide to the next with a checkerboard effect. It’s all really neat-o. 

Unfortunately, for your audience it gets old pretty fast. Ideally, they should be focused on your words, not on the way those words bounce onto the screen. So when it comes to animations, less is definitely more.

 
 

I have found that the most effective use of animations is to “build” slides that contain several elements. For example, if you have a slide that contains several bullet points or images, and you plan to talk about each one separately, set up your animations so that each item only appears when you’re ready to talk about it, triggered by a click of your mouse or a presenter’s remote (this is the one I’ve used for years now). Doing this keeps your audience from reading ahead so they can focus only on the point you’re currently talking about. A simple choice like “appear” or “fade” in PowerPoint does the trick nicely for this type of animation.

6. Keep Things Consistent

Within each slide and from slide to slide, do whatever you can to keep your elements consistent. Doing so will make your presentation look much more professional, which will give you more confidence as a speaker and will give your audience a lot more confidence in you.

7. Proofread…Out Loud

This is one of the hardest things to make yourself do, but it is probably the thing that will make the biggest difference: Go through your slides and read them out loud. No, reading it carefully in your head is not the same. Do it out loud. I promise you will catch at least one error. 

This is not the same as practicing your presentation; that you should definitely do multiple times if you want to do a good job in front of an audience. But if you really want to catch those embarrassing spelling, punctuation, and other mechanical errors, the only way to find them is to read your slides out loud. 

 

Need Some Fresh Templates?

I have just created a set of four slideshow templates that you might want to get for yourself. They’re available in PowerPoint for Windows and Google Slides. Each one contains 27 different slide designs, and they also come with a separate template for a 2-page handout, styled to look similar to the slideshow, so you can create a PDF to accompany your presentation.

The templates also come with a collection of video tutorials that show you exactly how to customize them for your use. Click on each design below to preview the whole template, or scroll to the bottom to get the bundle of all four designs at a discount!

 

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19 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks for these tips. Always find your posts insightful and helpful. Have you ever seen David Phillips Ted talk on avoiding death by PowerPoint? Also really good.

    https://youtu.be/Iwpi1Lm6dFo

  2. While I agree with everything in your post, this is great advice for when people are giving presentations on a topic that is not meant for a classroom full of adult learners. After reading much about the science of learning, I have stopped using PowerPoints in my classes and
    I make my adult Learners take notes by hand. They pay more attention. And I find more engagement with this method along with other things I have been using. Seattle Learners I am teaching in a diploma program are very used to passive learning they just sit there and listen or read or doodle on the computer and learning is not taking place. Having them sit up take notes, fill out documents, work in pairs or groups, this process is much better for my classroom environment.
    Cynthia
    I am not getting rid of PPT, just not using it for now.

  3. Charlotte says:

    In general, many of the above tips can be followed, however, when working with learners for whom English is not their first language and/or learners with specific learning disabilities, some of the advice is downright cringy.

    For example, students who may have hearing difficulties or struggle with English comprehension prefer having text they can read on a slide to help them follow the lecture. If you decide not to have it on a slide, give all students a handout immediately so they can read along as you lecture. I understand seeing the terrible slides with full paragraphs but listing a number of definitions as you did seems fine.

    Additionally, Comic Sans, while hated by the general public for some reason, is actually the most legible of general fonts for people with dyslexia. If you refuse to use Comic Sans, don’t use whatever font was used on the Self-Selected Reading slide, which used a serif font, which is least legible for people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities (https://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/the-best-fonts-for-dyslexia/).

    Lastly, for disability-friendly slides: Use 40+ size font for Titles and 20+ for main text.

    • Eric Wenninger says:

      Charlotte, thank you for sharing your perspective. The points Jenn addresses in this post can be applied to a variety of contexts and will generally go a long way in helping presenters improve their slides. However, I think that having good slides starts with knowing your audience. As a teacher, you know your students best and are able to adapt your slides to meet their specific needs. In the past, I’ve used Comic Sans on slides so that my pre-literate adult ELL students could access content through a readable font. I might choose a more attractive font in a different context to make my slides more engaging. Whatever you chose to do, I think it’s important that you are thoughtful and have a reason behind it. Oftentimes, teachers don’t have the time to think about putting together effective slides that appropriately engage their audience, and this is where the tips that Jenn is offering are intended to help. I would also add that in the classroom, using slides are only one support for teaching students. ELL students, for example, would benefit from the use of graphic organizers, discussion strategies, and other visual supports rather than having to rely solely on “overcrowded” slides.

  4. Kimberly says:

    Jennifer, you mention Perdeck or something like this, connected to interactive slideshows, at the start of your April 14, 2019 podcast episode. Can you spell this for me? Thank you!

  5. Kimberly says:

    Hi again! I got it! I heard you mention it again and tried Pair Deck and then saw it’s Pear Deck! Haha!
    Perhaps when you give website addresses, you could quickly spell them out, especially when homonyms are involved. 🤣

    • Kimberly says:

      Ps. Thank you for your amazing and super practical work!. In my 14th year of classroom teaching now, I reflected recently on how I’ve found mentors in you and Angela Watson over the past two years. Not what I expected of a mentor (due to the virtual and one-way nature of the relationship), but so, so grateful to have found you both. Thank you for sharing your gifts, experience, knowledge, insights and so many great leads to others’ excellent work, including research and tools.

      • Katrice Quitter says:

        Kimberly,
        Thank you so much for sharing such positive feedback about Cult of Pedagogy. It’s awesome to have a mentor that can help you learn and grow so much as an experienced educator. I’ll be sure to share this with Jenn; I know she’ll want to see it!

  6. Judith Bartell says:

    I was just wondering if anyone had luck with google slides regarding the ability to see your slide notes on your chromebook while your audience just sees your presentation. The directions did not work for me, and I even did an internet search. Maybe this only works in powerpoint.

  7. Stéphane Delcourt says:

    I was just about to teach my undergraduate students “the do’s and don’t” with slideshows when came your podcast! Nice advices! Thanks a lot for these tips, I’ll share them.
    Stéphane, somewhere in France

  8. Love this concise review of improving PowerPoint presentations. I have never heard of Unsplash and look forward to reviewing that site for potential inclusion into my future slide shows. Shared via LinkedIn for my other education colleagues. Thank you so much!

  9. Keith Juarez says:

    Jennifer,

    Thank you for you power point tips. I have began using Peardeck to help with student engagement when using slides. Using the same tips you have given and integrating the google slides add-on “Peardeck” makes note taking or presentations less dull and draining.

  10. Bill McDevitt says:

    As if your templates weren’t enough, highly recommend http://www.slidescarnival.com for about 50+ PowerPoint or Google Slides templates that are awesome and free for use. Take a look!

    • Eric Wenninger says:

      Thanks for sharing Bill. I love Slides Carnival. The templates are great and the sample slides even include tips on how to have better presentations, many of which align with what Jenn is saying here. Be sure to choose the right template for your audience. There are a wide variety available.

  11. Craig Steenstra says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. I wonder how you (and others) feel about the Presenter View in Google Slides. I prefer it because I often will be moving between different tabs in presentations to model a task or show examples on websites. This view allows that to occur smoothly but leaves the URL and tab bar visible up top. People I’ve asked said it doesn’t bother them, but I thought I’d seek a broader perspective.

    • Hi Craig! The presenter view in Slides is definitely better than keeping it in editing mode, and I definitely understand the need to jump between tabs to demonstrate different things. I think my main beef was with keeping it in editing mode with the thumbnails and tools still visible!

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