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Overcoming Bad Slide Syndrome (BSS): Ten Tips for Better PowerPoint Slides

If you haven't been living under a rock during the last 20 years, chances are you've been subjected to a dreadful PowerPoint presentation at some point during that time. In fact, if you spend your days in meeting rooms or lecture halls, it's possible that you're assaulted regularly by the work of those who suffer from Bad Slide Syndrome (BSS). Perhaps you've contracted this affliction yourself after all that exposure.

Good news! BSS is curable. With a little bit of effort, you can produce high-quality PowerPoint slides that will wow your audiences. The key to doing so is consistently following some basic guidelines.

1. Choose a theme that is not overused, out of date, inappropriate for your topic, or an assault on the visual senses. In other words, just because Microsoft created a template doesn't mean that it's appropriate for every message or audience. You may need to alter a design to get it to work for you. You can adjust a theme's colors, fonts, and other elements by clicking on the design tab.

2. Learn how to use the slide master and slide templates. Once you know what you're doing, making changes and updates will be fast and easy. Furthermore, you will be less likely to overlook details when updating large numbers of slides. PowerPoint is a powerful presentation tool that can automate a lot of the drudgery associated with creating slides; you just need to learn how to use it.

3. Choose pictures and video in favor of text when possible. High-quality pictures that fill the screen can have a lasting impact on your audience. In addition to the photos that come with the program, there are several good stock photography companies that offer inexpensive professional photos of subjects from accounting to ziggurats. Spend a little time and money selecting images that will support your message.

4. How will you survive without text-heavy slides? PowerPoint is a tool to enhance your presentation. It should not be viewed as a crutch. If you need to read from your slides, you're not ready to present. Out of respect for your audience, spend some time practicing.

5. If your presentation will need to stand on its own as part of an online training program later, use the notes section at the bottom of the slide to explain the graphic. If a text explanation is not sufficient, you can always record yourself as if you were presenting the program live. In our presentation skills training courses, we occasionally suggest that our clients record themselves explaining their slides regardless of the fate of the presentation after it's given live. We find that the act of recording forces practice. When played back, the recording can also then serve as a tool for the presenter to become more familiar with the content and to self-critique delivery.

6. Does that mean text should never be on a slide? Of course not. From time to time, text slides provide value when they are well designed. This means about six lines of six words each per slide. In most cases, if you have paragraphs of text that you need to communicate in writing, a handout would be more appropriate. Bad Slide Syndrome usually begins with too much text. Do yourself a favor and avoid temptation from the start.

7. When choosing a font, opt for one that is san-serif (in other words, one without feet). Times New Roman is a serif font. Arial is a san-serif font. San-serif fonts are easier to read from a distance. In keeping with the idea of readability, large text in dark colors against light backgrounds usually works best.

8. To maintain visual harmony, be consistent in your capitalization and punctuation. Every word after a bullet should start with a capital letter. Bullets should also follow the same sentence. For example, a slide about PowerPoint design might have these three bullets:

  • Use a san-serif font.
  • Choose colors that work well together.
  • Use at least 18-point type.

Each point starts with a capitalized verb. Each ends with a period. The more consistent you are, the more credible and prepared you will be to your audience.

9. To make good slides, you must have discipline. Unfortunately, PowerPoint offers a buffet of options that should be used sparingly-if at all-in a business or academic presentation. When choosing animation effects or transitions for your slides, ask yourself if your choices enhance or detract from your message. Most of the time, complicated animation screams "amateur." You're better than that, and your audience deserves more as well.

10. Bad Slide Syndrome is contagious. If you're constantly exposed to bad slides, chances are you'll produce them. Upgrade what you look at, and you will start to create better products yourself. A simple Google search for "beautiful PowerPoint slides" or something similar will direct you to several fine examples. Don't steal them. Rather, use them as inspiration for your work.

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