Skip to main content

Best practices for making awesome PowerPoint slides

Whether you’re presenting a slideshow to your executives, clients, or peers, you want to convey your message clearly and successfully. Unfortunately, many mistakes can be made when creating PowerPoint presentations.

From hard-to-read fonts to colors that hurt the eyes of your audience, here are some best practices to keep in mind for your next PowerPoint slideshow.

Choose the fonts wisely

Using a fancy, dramatic, or even whimsical font can be tempting. But you must consider the readability of the font. You want your audience to easily see your headings and bullet points. Consider the two basic font styles: serif and sans serif.

Serif fonts are more decorative, have a classic appearance, and are frequently used in print publications. Each letter has a stroke that extends from a point in the letter. Popular serif styles include Times New Roman, Garamond, Georgia, and Baskerville.

List of serif fonts in PowerPoint.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sans serif fonts are more precise, have a clean appearance, and are frequently used in digital publications. Each letter is clear-cut without wings or curves at its points. Popular sans serif styles include Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, and Calibri.

List of sans serif fonts in PowerPoint.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Because of the extended strokes, serif fonts can appear a bit blurry on a screen. This makes a sans serif font the favored choice. The bottom line is that you should remain consistent and use the same type, serif or sans serif, for all fonts in the slideshow.

Select pleasing colors

The colors you use in your PowerPoint presentation can be just as important as the content. You want to use those that enhance the appearance of the slideshow, not distract or give your audience a headache.

As Robert Lane explains in his article about combining colors in PowerPoint, mixing red and blue or red and green can cause eye strain. Plus, red and green mixtures are difficult to see for those with color blindness.

Red text on green slide in PowerPoint.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The article mentions that warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows are eye-catching, whereas cool colors like blues, greens, and purples draw less attention. Additionally, lighter colors are more noticeable than dark.

One of the easiest ways to choose the colors for your presentation is to use a built-in theme. Select the Design tab and you’ll see a collection of Themes in the ribbon.

Theme collection in PowerPoint.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Once you select a theme, you can then use the Variants section to choose a different color scheme. Each scheme includes eight complementing colors. You can also pick the font style you want to use in the Variants drop-down menu.

Color schemes for a theme in PowerPoint.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Tip: You can also check out the Design Ideas if you need help with the layouts for your slides.

Don’t overuse animations and effects

Animations can be attention-grabbing additions to a slideshow. But if you overuse or misuse them, they can be detrimental to your presentation and actually turn off viewers. The best thing to do is consider your audience and slideshow’s purpose.

For instance, if you are presenting the slideshow to a classroom of 8-year-old students, animations can grab and hold their attention more than simple images or words. However, if you’re presenting to your company’s executive team or board of directors, animations can come across as unprofessional.

If you really want to include animations, make them subtle or purposeful. As an example, you may want to expand on each bullet point in your list. You can create an animation to display the bullet points one by one and only when you click.

To do this, select the first bullet point, go to the Animations tab, and choose the Appear effect. Then, in the Timing section of the ribbon, choose On click in the Start drop-down list. Do the same for each bullet point in your list.

Animations tab showing the Appear effect and On Click for Start.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This creates a simple animation that benefits your presentation. It doesn’t distract but instead keeps your audience focused on your current talking point.

Use a standard presentation rule

What is the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint? What is the five-by-five rule? What about the 5/5/5 and seven-by-seven rules? Rules, rules, rules. These are different standards that many recommend using when it comes to creating PowerPoint presentations.

  • The 10/20/30 rule: Have no more than 10 slides, a presentation no longer than 20 minutes, and a font size no smaller than 30 points.
  • The five-by-five rule: Have no more than five words per line and five lines per slide.
  • The 5/5/5 rule: Have no more than five words per line, five lines per slide, and five text-heavy slides in a row.
  • The seven-by-seven rule: Have no more than seven words per line and seven lines per slide.
Slide sorter view in PowerPoint showing 10 slides.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What each of these rules basically means is: Keep it simple.

The first rule, 10/20/30, is a good rule to follow for your overall presentation. While it may not always be possible, the more succinct a presentation, the more successful it will be.

The last three rules are helpful ones to follow when you’re adding text to your slides. As you know, presentations are visual. Using too much text means your audience is reading more than watching.

Hopefully, these best practices will help you create a memorable and effective slideshow. For other ways to enhance your presentation, look at how to add audio to the slides or how to include music in PowerPoint.

Sandy Writtenhouse
Sandy has been writing about technology since 2012. Her work has appeared on How-To Geek, Lifewire, MakeUseOf, iDownloadBlog…
Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel now run faster on Apple’s new M1 Macs
apple macbook pro 13 m1 review 06

Many of the apps from the Microsoft 365 suite now run natively on Apple's new M1-powered MacBooks. Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote are now all able to take full advantage of Apple's custom ARM-based silicon.

These new Microsoft 365 apps for Apple M1 Macs are all universal apps, which means that they will also run on traditional Macs with Intel processors. This also means that the Office apps on Apple's M1 Macs -- like the new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini -- should all feel snappier and faster than when they were previously running under emulation with Rosetta 2.

Read more
Microsoft’s new Office app hints at the Surface Duo’s potential
new microsoft office app productivity surface duo splashvideothumbnail

This holiday season, Microsoft will release a dual-screen smartphone known as the Surface Duo. As a dual-screen device, you can stack your favorite apps side by side, span apps across the screen for a better view of your work, and generally do more while on the go.

That demands software and hardware work hand-in-hand, however, so the new Office app for iOS and Android is paving the way forward. It'll make your phone a bit more useful for work -- in Office apps, at least.
One hub for all things Office
You can already use the dedicated Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps on your phone. With the new Office app, however, Microsoft is creating a one-stop hub for all things related to work. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are all part of the Office app. Yet it's lightweight, coming in at less than 100MB.

Read more
Microsoft has an A.I. coach that can critique your PowerPoint presentations
microsoft powerpoint presenter coach tool image004  1

Public speaking, including the delivery of PowerPoint presentations, can be a trial. There's the need to pace yourself, as well as to avoid reading your slides word for word. Microsoft gets that.

Leaning on the power of artificial intelligence, the company is now launching a public preview of its PowerPoint Presenter Coach, a tool which can help critique your PowerPoint presentation.

Read more