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1. Understand your audience
Before you begin creating your presentation slides, take some time to understand your audience. What is their level of education? How much do they already know about the topic you’re presenting? What do they want to get out of attending the presentation? Answering these questions will help you determine how complex to make the information, which main points to make, and what tone to use.
Even if your audience has some level of expertise, it is a good idea to avoid using acronyms. If you must use acronyms, make sure they are clearly defined. Also, be sure to define any technical or unfamiliar terms.
2. Define the purpose of your presentation
The purpose of communication is typically to inform, persuade, or entertain. In fact, communication is often a combination of these. Along with understanding your audience, knowing the purpose helps you determine the correct tone and content for your presentation. So, make sure you understand what you want to accomplish before you begin putting the slides together.
3. Make an emotional connection
Regardless of your purpose, you’ll want to find a way to connect emotionally with your audience. Many expert presenters, such as Nancy Duarte, recommend structuring your presentation like a story, because stories are inherently memorable. Your presentation should have a clear beginning, middle (climax), and end (resolution). Or, to put it another way, your story should tell the audience where they are now, where they want to be, and how they can get there (the call to action).
4. Keep the presentation concise
The best presentations are short and to the point. Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule provides guidance for keeping your presentations concise: restrict your presentation to 10 slides, limit your presentation time to 20 minutes, and use a 30-point font for your slides. In addition, try to limit yourself to six lines of text on each slide.
5. Use formatting wisely
Choose elegant fonts and don’t combine more than two or three of them. When you do combine fonts, make sure they play well together. If you’re not sure which fonts to choose, stick with classic fonts rather than decorative ones. Use the same fonts consistently throughout your presentation. And, remember, sans serif fonts (like Arial and Verdana) are easier to read on screen than serif fonts (like Times New Roman).
If you need to add emphasis to slide text, use bolded text (sparingly) or increase the font size. Don’t use italics or underlining for emphasis.
6. Be consistent with your color scheme
Choose a color scheme for your presentation and stick with it through all of your slides. Make sure there is enough visual contrast between the text color and background color. However, the contrast shouldn’t be too stark, like black text on a white slide. Avoid extreme color combinations, such as red/green or red/blue.
Be sure to test out your color scheme on a projector before showing the presentation to a live audience. What you see on your laptop screen may not be what you get when you project the slides on a large screen.
7. Use high-quality imagery
Choose visually interesting and meaningful imagery, and be sure to use high-quality images (not clip art). You can purchase images inexpensively from stock image sites or even find some for free through Creative Commons.
Keep charts and diagrams simple and easy to understand at a glance. Ask yourself whether the person at the back of the room will be able to understand your chart/diagram as easily as the person in the front row.
Finally, use in-slide or between-slide animations sparingly. They can be annoying to the audience and may even slow you down if you end up needing to move through your presentation quickly.
Presentation Resources on the Web
The following resources from experts around the Web offer some great additional tips for creating successful presentations: