How to create clean PowerPoint slides so your audience loves you

Clean PowerPoint slides are the way forward! 

PowerPoint so willingly lends itself to the insertion of information, lots of information: charts, bullet lists, and dense blocks of text. But as we all know, more is so often NOT more, especially when it comes to data on slides. More is, in fact, depressing. More is exhausting for your audience to process. More makes you realise you need new glasses.

The only tip you need to follow to keep your PowerPoint slides clean:

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.

So, don’t be daunted by those wide open spaces on your slides: embrace the minimalist aesthetic and let less be more. Clean slides rule. Your audience will thank you for it… they might even like you more.

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

Make your presentations more visual for success

Visual presentations are what you need

Touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell: the five senses through which we receive information about our world, and useful tools for anyone wanting to communicate a clear, powerful message. I’ll admit that integrating touch, taste or smell into a standard Presentation could be a challenge, but there’s no excuse for not making the most of both hearing and sight. Most presentations offer very little, if any, visual stimulation though.

Yes, most presentations provide slides for the audience to look at, while listening to the spoken words of the presenter. But in most cases the listening channel gets overloaded while the visual channel is under-used. Because too many presentations comprise slides full of words.

presentation blog illustration - What you see is what you get

As an audience member, when reading a presentation slide we speak the words in our heads, effectively talking to ourselves using our inner voice. Our visual channel is barely engaged at all. Worst 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? Engaging both visual and listening channels massively increases understanding and long term recall

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.

Your presentation is not a hand-out!

You might think your presentation looks fantastic in hand-out format. Maybe it does, if someone were to read it. Unfortunately, to present it, is a different scenario. Indeed, a presentation which comprises diligently compiled information, is one of the dullest things on earth to actually sit through.

A presentation is a chance for you to engage with your audience. For this to happen you need to speak to and connect with them. Your presentation should provide guidance and clarification. It’s not a substitute for you, your words and your interaction with those listening.

The best way for your presentation to support your spoken words, is through one short message per slide and a relevant, supporting visual. Your narrative can then bring the presentation to life using the terminology and examples which your audience relate to.

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

Your reams of wonderful notes need not be lost, but can be hidden on the notes page (in PowerPoint) for you to glance at while speaking.

These notes can also be shared with the audience in the form of a hand-out at the end. 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 that the notes will be coming and they’ll be less tempted to scribble their own notes while you speak. Less scribbing = better concentration.

So don’t take a shortcut and force your presentation to double as hand-out notes: present your presentation and then hand out your notes. The extra effort will be well worth in terms of audience attention and understanding.

The notes area can also be styled and formatted 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 classic mistake presenters make, is to pack their slides full of words, which they then read to the audience. Unless your audience is very young indeed, they can read for themselves. Reading to them can be seen as annoying and slightly insulting.

Should you read from your PowerPoint slides?

You may be forgiven 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.

don't read to your audience

People read much faster than they speak, so when faced with a slide full of text, most of your audience will focus on reading the message, leaving you talking to yourself. People can’t read and listen at the same time. What happens when a person reads: simply, they will be listening to their own internal voice, and quickly too as we can read fast. A presenter will be speaking the same text much more slowly, so rather than a stereo effect, the effect is two voices speaking out of sync. And the presenter ends up being more of a distraction than a help.

If you want the audience to understand and remember your words, present just one, short, clear statement per slide and a visual which explains and clarifies it. You and the audience should be able to read the statement in a matter of seconds, and 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.

There are short phrases or diagram labels that of course you should voice out loud. But sentences of bullet points? Don’t even have them on the slide!

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 basically no. Instead of reading to your audience, try talking to them instead: this will lead to better understanding and less eye-strain.