How to make better digital presentations

Sunday , August 10, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner contributor

No doubt you've had to make a digital presentation at some point in your career or for a group you belong to. While the vast majority of people use Microsoft Powerpoint, few use it well. The most common mistake is too many slides crammed with information — your audience is too busy trying to read your slides to listen to you. A skimpy show that offers just quotes and photos can be entertaining, but can't be used for reference after your talk is over. And one with just the right amount of material, typically shown in bulleted lists, is guaranteed to bore.

According to Alexei Kapterev, author of "Death by Powerpoint," 30 million Powerpoints are delivered every day and at least half of them are boring. Kapterev says you must determine the subject and why it matters to you. A passionate speaker is a powerful one, but sometimes finding the passion is not so easy.

I recently was told to make a presentation to a company on cutting clutter. The CEO felt her employees were wasting time duplicating one another's work, not communicating enough and were having trouble setting priorities. This was about as interesting to me as a guide to cleaning the house. But once I thought about how streamlining procedures could benefit me, I warmed up to the subject. Still, the challenge was making a dry subject interesting.

Here's how I tackled the project and how you can take similar steps to make your next presentation better.

While a Powerpoint presentation was necessary for the long list of required items submitted by the boss, it wasn't the best way to open the session. Instead, I created a 60-second animated video opener on Powtoon, a Web-based presentation tool that's surprisingly easy to use.

Powtoon uses a similar setup to Powerpoint, so the interface will feel familiar. You may choose one of Powtoon's many templates or start from scratch. To preview a template, hover over one of the covers with your mouse to play through the slides. Select one to open the workspace. Like with Powerpoint, you can type text and add photos from your computer. But here's where Powtoon is different — on the right side of the window, you'll see a comprehensive array of simple animations, such as figures, icons and shapes. You'll also find type animations, backgrounds and transitions.

But don't be fooled by the cartoons — Powtoon also includes professional-looking elements for great infographics. At the top right of the window, you'll see "My Styles." Use the arrows to scroll through to "Infographics" and you'll find more traditional graphics.

Once you've finished your Powtoon, you publish it, meaning your video will be available on the Powtoon website. You may share it to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, but to download it, you'll have to purchase a subscription at a pricy minimum of $19 a month. I opted to play it from the website and live with the small Powtoon logo on each slide.

For the main presentation, I used Powerpoint, keeping these rules in mind.

Avoid template graphics. Although I was asked to create a Powerpoint template that presenters could use for their own presentations, I did not use it. Repeating the same graphics — other than a very small company logo in a lower corner — don't so much add continuity, but put your viewers to sleep. Seeing the same peripheral image tricks your viewers into thinking you're just showing the same thing over and over.

Instead, create continuity through limiting your use of fonts and design elements. Think like a magazine editor: use one or two fonts, choose fewer than four colors for text and graphics and devise a font system, such as the same font-color-size combination for headlines and variations for body copy and labels. (Don't use fonts smaller than 24 point; headlines should be between 36 and 44 point size.)

Sketch your slides before you open Powerpoint. Just like with a good story, you need a beginning, a middle and an end. One idea per slide.

Avoid too much white space, which will just look empty and unfinished when your slides are shown on a screen. Consider good photographs as backgrounds, enlarged to cover entire slides with a box on top for type. Make sure you use high-resolution images (1920 x 1080 pixels).

If you're a Photoshop user, do a little editing before bringing your pictures into Powerpoint. It only takes a few minutes to autocorrect tone and contrast. To make your images really pop, turn up the saturation. You'll be glad you took this extra step when you wind up in a not-so-dark room where the light drains the color from your slides.

Ignore the fancy — and distracting — transitions. Good video editors don't use transitions, and neither should good Powerpoint makers.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. She has designed and manages several international websites. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at

Sign up for e-mail news updates.