Best Practices for Using PowerPoint

PowerPoint slides have become a staple of presentations for workshops, conferences, and teaching. A great deal has been written about both the strengths and weaknesses of this modality. Below is a summary of advice from a variety of sources about content, format, presentation style, and use for teaching. Some of the information varies among the sources (e.g., ideal font size), but most points have been repeated consistently. The emphasis is on simplicity, clarity, and brevity.

  1. Content
    1. ​​​​​​​Begin with an outline of the points you want to cover
      1. Chose level appropriate to audience
      2. Establish consistent organization
    2. Create a structure
      1. Include beginning, middle, and end
      2. Plan slides as visual overview of presentation
    3. List objectives or provide outline
    4. Keep it short and simples
      1. Include only necessary information
      2. Emphasize key points
    5. Limit number of slides
      1. ​​​​​​​Estimate one slide per minute
      2. Elaborate in oral presentation
  2. Format
    1. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Use bullet points with single words or concise phrases
      1. ​​​​​​​Include key words only
      2. Eliminate wordy phrases
      3. Avoid long sentences
      4. Use parallel structure
      5. Use short quotations, if necessary
    2. Limit number of ideas on each slide
      1. ​​​​​​​One main idea per slide
      2. 4-6 bullet points per slide
      3. One line per bullet point
      4. No more than 6 words on a line
    3. Assign titles to presentation and to each slide
    4. Use summary lists at ends of sections
    5. Select readable font
      1. ​​​​​​​Use size that is easy to see (range of 18 to 40 points)
        1. ​​​​​​​Titles: 26-40 points (some recommend up to 48 points)
        2. Subtitles: 22-24 Points
        3. Text: 18-20 points (some recommend 24-32)
      2. Use larger fonts for more important points or headings
      3. Use fonts that are easy to read: Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica (sans serif)
      4. Use upper and lower case letters (not all Capitals)
    6. Avoid abbreviations and acronyms
    7. Limit punctuation marks
    8. Use simple design
      1. ​​​​​​​Create a visual theme
      2. Be consistent in layout (fonts, colors, style, spacing)
      3. Minimize highlighting (bold, italics, or underlining)
    9. Use color for emphasis and organization
      1. ​​​​​​​Select a color scheme and stick with it
      2. Use contrasting colors near each other
      3. Use warm colors for emphasis
      4. Use cool colors for most of text
      5. Don’t use more than 5 colors
      6. Use dark print on a light background
    10. Leave empty spaces
    11. Make diagrams and tables simple and clear
      1. ​​​​​​​Delete decimal places, if possible
      2. Round up or down for large numbers, if possible
    12. Graphics
      1. ​​​​​​​Use them to support text, not overwhelm it
      2. Use no more than two graphics per slide
      3. Make them consistent (size, resolution, placement on slide)
      4. Use motion, sound, and music sparingly
      5. Avoid special effects for transitions
  3. Presentation
    1. Don’t read slides
      1. ​​​​​​​Use Speaker’s Notes to keep track of what you plan to say for each slide
      2. Talk to the audience, not to the screen
      3. Never turn your back on the audience
    2. ​​​​​​​Practice using same size screen as actual presentation
    3. Visual aids should enhance, not replace, verbal presentation
    4. Use pointer only if necessary
    5. Allow 10-15 seconds of wait time
      1. ​​​​​​​After asking a question
      2. After asking for questions
    6. Know how to move forward/backward and jump ahead or back
  4. Tips for Using PowerPoints for Teaching
    1. Uses
      1. ​​​​​​​Convey visual ideas, graphs, and tables
      2. Summarize facts or reading
      3. Present questions for discussion
    2. Supplement with additional activities, including active learning techniques
    3. Structure
      1. ​​​​​​​Begin with preview of presentation
        1. ​​​​​​​Be clear about what you will cover
        2. Exclude extraneous material
      2. Create a series of mini lectures
        1. ​​​​​​​Make them 10-15 minute long
        2. Give summaries at end of each
      3. Relate content to learning objectives
    4. Ask questions about slides
    5. Allow students to ask questions and clarify material