Tech’ top tips – #30. Making PowerPoint work for you

This tip is provided by the Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology (CELT).

We’ve all been there – a big presentation, whether it be for work or study, and the presenter shows a million text filled PowerPoint slides and just reads the screen. The entire audience falls asleep and more importantly the messages are not conveyed.

So what can we do when using PowerPoint to make our presentations more engaging and accessible?

The first piece of advice is to remember that the PowerPoint slides are not the entire presentation. The presentation is made up of components; yes, we may have some slides to display but the main component of the presentation is you!

Remember that our PowerPoint slides are only there to augment and prompt us when presenting. The idea is that we use the visual elements to emphasise our key points using text and images to ensure those who learn in different ways find it easier to engage. For example; a paragraph of text about an important moment in history may be accurate and contain key points, but a picture depicting the messages helps us to visualise and absorb the information more easily.

However, be careful when using images, as too many pictures can be confusing – especially if the images are not explicitly linked to the topic. As always when using images, it is important that we are aware of copyright and that we only use images to which we are entitled and we must reference image sources.

Embedded video can be another tool to ensure we get our message across in a succinct way. If we are presenting on an established topic it is likely that somebody will have made a video and, within reason and with appropriate acknowledgement, there’s no harm in re-purposing available materials. As with images, being aware of copyright and referencing our videos is important. We should always try to use videos that have captions or subtitles included and enable these when playing the video to the audience.

We must also think about accessibility – paragraphs of black text on white slides is not only pretty boring it is not an accessible way of conveying messages. We need to think about using contrasting colours, accessible fonts and limiting the amount of text using bullet points. Not only for when we display our slides but also when they are printed as some audience members may require a printed version. A good tip is to use the Slide Master function to set an accessible convention that propagates through to all of the slides – this makes it easy for us to ensure our slides are consistent and we can quickly change the look and feel of our whole presentation should we need to.

An example PowerPoint slideHere’s an example of a slide that is used when explaining the function of different connectors on a device. The pastel background was set using the Slide Master function, there is a clear picture of the connectors that are being talked about and there is minimal text content. Yes, this may look pretty simple and it might even look boring, but with an engaging, scripted, delivery and the video that is linked from the slide I have a nice piece of content that includes different elements and will not put my audience to sleep.