How to create clean PowerPoint slides

How to create clean PowerPoint slides! 

PowerPoint willingly lends itself to showing information, indeed, lots of information: charts, bullet lists, tables, infographics, images and dense blocks of text. It’s a versatile bit of kit, but that’s almost its downfall. As we all know, less is more, especially when it comes to data on slides. More is, in fact, exhausting for your audience to process.

There’s only 1 tip you need:

Slides jammed full of charts, graphs or dense blocks of text is hard work, and guaranteed to make hearts sink. Presentations should not be hard work: they should be enlightening, stimulating, engaging and fun.

presentation blog illustration - Keep it clean

One of the simplest ways to transform your presentations from heart-sink to happy is to keep your slides clean of unnecessary words and data.

TIP 1: Make one, simple statement on each slide and use the remaining “space” for a visual that explains and clarifies. And that’s it. No more tips.

Don’t be tempted to “use the space” by filling it with graphs; no-one will be impressed with your excel skills if they’re asleep. And most certainly don’t fill the slide with words. If there are some words that need saying, then say them out loud. Your audience can read in their own time, but they’ve come to the presentation to hear from you.

Remember: don’t be daunted by open spaces on your slides: embrace the minimalist aesthetic and let less be more. Clean slides rule. Your audience will thank you for it… 

You may find these further blogs useful for other ways to clean up your PowerPoint slides:

7 ways to avoid bullet points (try these simple design alternatives)

Visual information in PowerPoint

10 Design Tips for PowerPoint slides

Presentation Zen article

Presentation structure advice

The skill of honing one message per slide relies on having a strong presentation structure.  It isn’t a case of splitting your 9 bullets over 9 slides. You need to think about the purpose of your presentation, and what you want your audience to do and know/remember. Read the blog link to get deeper into this approach.

How to make presentations more visual

Visual presentations will boost your success

Our senses are “on” all the time. Touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell: the five senses through which we receive information about our world, and useful tools for to communicate clear, powerful messages. In a presentation scenario, integrating touch, taste or smell could be a challenge, but there’s zero excuse for not making the most of both hearing and sight. Most presentations offer very little, if any, visual stimulation though.

Let’s get this over with: text does not count as a visual.

Typically, the audience looks at slides while listening to the spoken words of a presenter. But in most cases there is an overload of text on a slide which results in the audience reading. When reading they are actually “listening” to themselves speak. We talk about brain channels – and this listening channel quickly gets overloaded in this scenario as the audience listens to both themselves read, and the presenter speak. Meanwhile the visual channel is under-used. Basically, a text led presentation is a brain disaster.

presentation blog illustration - What you see is what you get

Worse still, most people read much faster than they speak, so our inner voice and the external voice of the presenter will be occurring simultaneously, but will be out of sync… audience’s will be struggling with a confusing dual input audio stream.

However, if a presentation addresses the visual channel properly, the audience has a much better experience as well as understanding and remembering better. Scientific research has shown that when both the visual and listening channels are properly engaged, retention of information improves 6 fold, when compared to information delivered without any visuals at all. So…how do we achieve this? Simply we must engage both visual and listening channels to increase understanding and long term recall.

Tip 1 for more visual presentations:

Switch your blocks of text for clear, relevant images or use alternative layouts to avoid bullets. Your audience can then look at the slide presentation and listen to the presenter without feeling overloaded. The visual should clarify your words, increasing understanding and boosting the chances of long term recall.

The visual doesn’t need to be a work of art, but it does need to support your verbal message clearly and directly. A confusing or irrelevant image will distract or mislead your audience, so take some time to think of what will best illuminate your words. A picture really can speak a thousand words…so let’s get visual and work with our audiences.

Tip 2:

Use the Notes Area in PowerPoint to store that additional information you wanted to share. And then share some designed Notes Pages afterwards.

 

More tips? Chat to us and find out how neuroscience can benefit your presentation.

Your presentation is not a hand-out!

What’s wrong with a presentation hand-out?

If you’ve put together your slides with lots of information on them because you need to hand them out before, during, or after your presentation: well stop. Your presentation is not a hand-out.

Presenting “hand-out ready” slides is a disaster

Unfortunately, presenting text heavy or content heavy slides is one of the hardest things on earth for audiences to actually sit through. They can read, so presenting such slides makes just about everyone think “This could have been emailed”.

Plus, we read faster than we can speak. So email your slides to be read instead to win that argument on time alone.

You see a presentation is a chance to engage with your audience. For this to happen you need to speak to and connect with them. Voice, intonation and body language come into their own here. Your presentation is important too and should provide guidance and clarification. It’s not a substitute for you, your words and your interaction with those listening.

The challenge is that speakers too often use their slides as a crutch. We worry that we’ll forget our important points so we write them down: on the slide!

A very good solution is to pop that info into the Notes Area in PowerPoint, and to use Presenter View so you can see those notes while you present.  

presentation blog illustration - Your presentation is not a hand-out

Use those notes as client ready information. (Don’t write things like “imagine your audience naked” – a well known trick to relax nervous presenters. It’s not our idea, but it’s out there!)

These notes can be hidden from immediate view on the notes page (in PowerPoint) for you to glance at while speaking. Freeing up both your slide space and your audience’s concentration.

Afterwards, these notes can also be shared with the audience in the form of a hand-out. Do you remember receiving party-bags as a kid? Well, you can provide the equivalent to your audience in the form of clear, structured notes for them to take away with them…but only once you’ve finished!

Let your audience know at the start that the notes will be coming and they’ll be less tempted to scribble their own notes while you speak. Less scribbing = better concentration.

Don’t have that bad habit of using your slides themselves as your hand-outs: present visual slides and then PDF the Notes View so your presentation + notes becomes a powerful hand out. The extra effort will be well worth in terms of audience attention and understanding.

Bonus tip: Style and format the Notes Area to look professional. There is a Notes Master area in PowerPoint that will do half the work for you if properly set up. Trust us, it’s well worth it spending an extra hour getting your notes pages looking great. You’ll look great too.

For more information on using the Notes View, read this blog.

Why you shouldn’t read from your PowerPoint slides

A common mistake presenters make, is packing their slides full of words, and then reading all those words to the audience. Unless the audience is pre-school, it’s likely they can read for themselves. Reading to them can be seen as annoying and slightly insulting.

Should you read from your PowerPoint slides?

Well no. Of course not. Yet still “we all do it”. You see people read much faster than they speak, so when faced with a slide full of text, most of your audience will focus on speed-reading any text, essentially leaving you talking to yourself. Here’s the thing: People can’t read and listen at the same time.

When a person reads they will be listening to their own internal voice, and quickly too as we do read fast. So a presenter speaking the same text much more slowly, immediately becomes out of sync with the audience’s internal voice. End result: the presenter ends up being more of a distraction than a help.

Or, the audience doesn’t bother reading, because they assume it will be the same content that is spoken… Good for listening, but of course – if that happens, then why did you bother putting the text on the screen anyway?!

don't read to your audience

You could forgive people for thinking that receiving the message in two ways, on screen and verbally, will help to reinforce it, but actually the exact opposite is true. Visuals and a voice is a far stronger communication tool than reading text and listening.

Visuals trump all the senses for learning

Therefore, if you want the audience to understand and remember your words, present just one, short, clear statement per slide. And include a visual which explains and clarifies it. You and the audience should be able to read the statement in a matter of seconds. Then focus on attaining a deeper understanding through the visual and your spoken words. If you need notes to help you, no problem, but keep your notes to yourself, not on the screen.

Indeed, if you (cleverly) use the Notes Area in PowerPoint for additional information (instead of using the screen space) – then you will have an option to share that information in the Notes Area with the audience afterwards by printing the Notes View to PDF. These can be designed to look really professional as well. We have some examples of this – just ask!

Read this blog for further tips on how to reduce cognitive load in PowerPoint.

So to sum up, the answer to “Should you read from your PowerPoint slides”  is 100% no.