If you asked the internet how to make a great presentation, you’ll find more frameworks, tactics, and tips than you could ever actually put into use. And that’s not a bad thing! As we’ve mentioned before, tools like the 5x5 rule, the 7x7 rule, and the 10/20/30 rule can all help some presenters to refine and improve their presentations.
But for many people, these rigid frameworks and strict rules are just too complicated and inflexible. That’s why we believe that the best way to improve the quality (and effectiveness) of your presentations and learn how to make a great PowerPoint is more basic: step back and simplify.
With these three basic principles of presentation design, you can stop worrying about frameworks, start focusing on your message, and master the key skills you need to know how to make a good PowerPoint, every time.
Consider the Audience
The first topic for understanding how to make a good presentation is to ask “who is this for?” This is deceptively simple, but truly necessary and effective. That’s because even slight variations in audience can require major shifts to your presentation.
For example, a corporate overview that’s part of a keynote presentation at a conference might cover the same topics as one presented to the board as part of an annual review, but they will look and feel very different. One might be simple, sexy and exciting, while the other is denser but scannable and smartly packaged to address the audience’s unique concerns.
And if you try and apply something like the 5x5 framework (five words per line and five lines per slide), it will work wonderfully for a high-level keynote, but lack the depth and flexibility needed to accommodate the financial charts and complex information that cannot simply be voiced over in a “TED Talk” style manner.
Streamline your content
If you asked one of our expert designers about how to make a great PowerPoint, they’d tell you that our most important rule is to let the content drive the design.
What that means is that even a meticulously crafted PowerPoint template will fail if you try to cram too much information onto each slide. One reason this happens is what we call the Paradox of False Economy. With this trap, presenters think that using fewer slides (with more information on each one) is more digestible than a presentation with more slides (but less info) on each one. The problem is that this approach makes it significantly more difficult for audiences to retain the information on each slide because they are trying to take in too much at once.
But the reality is that using more slides to separate out ideas won’t add length to the overall presentation, and it will greatly improve the audience’s ability to understand and retain the content you present on each slide.
On the other hand, simpler isn’t always better. If you have a dense table with info that needs to be easily indexable to compare and contrast disparities, then keeping it all in one place makes the most sense.
This is the clearest way to see how no single rule can give you everything you need to make a great PowerPoint
accommodate every presentation. And it’s an excellent reminder to let your content drive your design, and not the other way around.
Write first, design second
When possible, we like to start by deciding on content and pacing first, and then apply the visual design last. One benefit of this is that it helps to ensure a consistent visual approach, since you will know what you need to design for before you even begin. It also helps you think about the visuals as a way of supporting your content, as opposed to simply being a backdrop. We call this Visual Storytelling, and it’s one of the best ways to answer the questions of “how to make a good PowerPoint.”
The fact is, presentations don’t happen in a vacuum. There are always time, technology, and even skill constraints that go along with crafting a presentation, so even these three simple principles aren’t a foolproof process. But if you use them as your guiding light, you’ll never steer off course.
Update: You read our tips, stepped up your PowerPoint game, and now your slides are clean, your stories are strong, and you’re closing deals left and right. But in case you want to take your skills even further, we’ve got a couple more PowerPoint tricks that will help.
Bonus PowerPoint trick #1: Remove anything that doesn’t serve your story
One of the simplest tricks for keeping your audience focused on your story is to remove every word, image, or other element that doesn’t directly support it.
When you are presenting, the fact is that your audience’s attention will waver. And one of the most common reasons is that they are reading ahead, or just focused on the other elements of the slide that you aren’t talking about.
So for every extra word, bullet, shape, or image that doesn’t directly support the larger story you want to tell, the less attention will be focused on your key message.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t still create a more robust slide or share more content. You can still give them a leave-behind version of your presentation that covers everything you want to address.
But in the moment you are presenting, your slides should be laser-focused on the essential content, because anything else is just a distraction.
Bonus PowerPoint trick #2: Benefits are better than features
As presentation designers, one of the biggest parts of what we do is simply helping people focus on the parts of the presentation that truly matter to the audience. Much like a gardener, our job is to get the presentation out of the weeds, so that the carefully crafted story is easy to understand.
That’s because many presenters forget that what matters most to them isn’t the same as what matters most to their audience. If you work on a certain product line every day, then the details of it might seem absolutely essential to you.
But your audience, even if they want to buy your product, is typically more interested in the “what” of your presentation (that is, your story), than the “why” of it. They want to know what will change for them as a result of choosing your brand.
And one of the easiest PowerPoint tricks for getting to that bigger picture is to talk more about benefits than features.
A benefit tells your audience what’s in it for them. It shows what your brand can do for them, and why it will make their life better.
On the other hand, a feature simply tells them a fact.
This doesn’t mean features aren’t important. They are, and they have their place in your presentation. But to elevate your work to something that is more engaging and audience-focused, you should focus on the benefit of your brand.
Want to learn more about how to make a good presentation? Our presentation training classes and free resources can give you all the tools you need to make content and design work in harmony, to fully unlock the potential of your story, and to give great presentations, every time.