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PowerPoint Excellence 

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PowerPoint Design

Here we’ve compiled a great deal of information from various sources on crafting effective PowerPoints/slides.

Some of the following guidelines below may seem “common sense,” but we have all seen ineffective PowerPoints in the past.

For more detailed and in-depth information, please see the resources listing at the bottom of the page. 

Additionally, we have created a PowerPoint presentation to visually represent the guidelines presented within this resource.  You may download this presentation by clicking on the PowerPoint title slide above or by clicking here.

PowerPoint Guidelines


Text slide from presentation

Pick the right size

The smallest font size is 18pt. Even 18 is hard to read sometimes. Generally, you want your title to be around 44pt and your bullets to be 32pt. If you find that all of your information will not fit on a slide using these guidelines, you probably have too much text on that slide (Earnest, 2011).

Limit the amount of text per slide

A Maximum of 6 bullet points, 7 words per bullet, and 40 words per page. Going over these limitations can make the slide seem cluttered, unclear, and visually displeasing (Earnest, 2011).

Choose the right font

SANS SERIF fonts are much easier to read than SERIF fonts. Some recommended sans serif fonts include: Tahoma, Arial, Trebuchet, and Verdana. Using sans serif fonts increase the readability of the text as well as increasing visual appeal (Durso, Pop, Burnett, & Stearman, 2011; Earnest, 2011).

Use simple bullet points

As the amount of text on the screen increases, so does “searching time” and errors. Reducing a sentence to a bullet point is a great way to minimize these errors (Durso et al., 2011).

Reduce sentences to key words

PowerPoint is not a teleprompter, it is a visual medium. Reducing even short sentences to key words will cut clutter on the slide (Earnest, 2011; Garner & Alley, 2011).

Use abbreviations and symbols where possible

Using abbreviations and symbols will help to cut down the word count and clutter on the screen. For example, use MLK instead of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Earnest, 2011).

Minimize highlights, bolds, italics, and caps

Only use these embellishments to really drive home a point or to draw attention (Durso et al., 2011).

Use affirmative and active statements

People better  understand active statements than passive statements and have more trouble processing negatives rather than positives (Durso et al, 2011).

Eliminate orphans

When your text pushes a single word on to the next line, this is called an orphan. Orphans eat up space and can make slides harder to follow (Earnest, 2011).


Visual slide from presentation

Choose the right template for a good foundation

Since plain white slides are least preferred by students, it is important to consider using a template to enhance learning. 

If you are building a PowerPoint from the bottom up, a template can set the framework for a professional and effective presentation. However, there are some templates, especially older templates, that fall short on delivering a professional and effective presentation. Furthermore, remember to avoid backgrounds and themes that could potentially hurt the audience’s eyes (Apperson, Laws, & Scepansky, 2008; Earnest, 2011).

BAD templates: Soaring, Whirlpool, High Voltage, Marble, Fireball, and Blue Diagonal

Good bright templates: Bold Stripes, Network, Profile, Echo, Eclipse, Layers, and Level

Good dark templates: Circuit and Refined (Earnest, 2011).

Choose the right template for the right occasion

Not all templates will work for every presentation. The projector and the amount of light in the room can influence what template to choose. For example, dark templates are best utilized when the room is very brightly lit, the screen has lights shining directly on it, or the colors of the pictures/logos clash with bright colors. Bright templates, on the other hand, are best presented in dim settings (Apperson et al., 2008; Earnest, 2011).

Use high contrast text colors

If using a dark background, use bright text coloring. Also, avoid red-green complements; most common color blindness (Durso et al., 2011; Earnest, 2011).

Be consistent

Whatever your design, be as consistent as possible throughout the slides. For example, if you decide to move the title to the upper-left portion of the slide on one slide, move it there for all slides. This helps reduce “searching” for information on the slides. Also, if you capitalize the first letter of every bullet on one slide, do so for the rest of the slides. This helps to draw attention to the beginning of each bullet-point; then you could deviate from this pattern to emphasize an important point (Durso et al., 2011)

Use Images

By using relevant and illustrative images in conjunction with text, your audience will learn more (Garner & Alley, 2011).

Choose images wisely

Ask yourself:

Does this image enhance the information on this slide?

Do the colors in the image match the colors of the template? (not essential but preferred)

How big is this image? (Minimum 800X400 for backgrounds, 400X200 for in-slide images)

How well does this image fit into my slides? (is it too long? Too tall?)

How big is the image’s file size? (too many large images can crash PowerPoint)

(Durso et al., 2011; Garner & Alley, 2011; Z. Schaefer, personal communication, September 19, 2014)

Choose clip-art wisely

In general, pictures are preferred over clip-art. However, if you still want to use clip-art, just remember that older clip-art was poorly drawn and rendered and does not fit with today’s technological advances. Using a clip-art graphic from before Windows 7 is probably not a good idea. However, old clip-art can sometimes be used ironically to grab the audience’s attention and to get a cheap laugh. has free clip-art and images (Earnest, 2011).

Size pictures with text appropriately

Remember that pictures are useless if they are not large enough to interpret. This is especially important if the image has text. Remember the text rules when sizing images with text and make the text in the picture at VERY least 18pt (Earnest, 2011).

Avoid the void

Above we’ve highlighted the importance on cutting back the amount of text on a slide; now the caveat to those rules. Use your space wisely. If you have followed the guidelines above, there should be a great deal of space left on your slides. Don’t waste this space. Some suggestions for balancing your slides and “avoiding the void:”

Increase your text size

Increase the size of your images

Add an Image

Move elements on slide to better balance the slide

(Z. Schaefer, personal communication, September 19, 2014)

Size pictures appropriately

Use caution when increasing the size of an image. All too often images are oversized and appear grainy when projected. Also, stretching images too far vertically or horizontally can skew the perspective. Finally, enlarge your picture enough so that your audience can actually see what is happening in the picture (Earnest, 2011).

Create your own margins

Sometimes projectors will not project the entire slide on the screen; cutting off potentially important information. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep the outer boundaries of the slide blank (Durso et al., 2011).

Use a maximum of 5 to 6 colors or shapes on graphs and charts

This is primarily to help the audience quickly process the information (Durso et al., 2011).

Place relevant information near the relevant image

Visually establishing connections between concepts will help eliminate “searching” and increase understanding (Garner & Alley, 2011).

Create borders and shadows

If an image does not already have a border or the background of the picture does not blend with your slide’s background, you need to add a border and a shadow to make the image look more professional (Earnest, 2011).

To create a custom border: Right-click on inserted image, select "format picture," (in the left options bar) click "line color," select "solid line," choose the color of the image border, THEN (in the left options bar) click "line style," here you can change the thickness of the border as well as the style.

To create a drop shadow or simple border: Click on inserted image, click the "format" tab on the toolbar, options to add different types of shadows, borders, and effects to the picture will appear in the toolbar.

Spread your bullets

Visually balance your bullet points on the slide to increase readability (Earnest, 2011).

Easy Citations

In order to help yourself remember to cite your sources, as a part of being consistent in slide design, put your citations in the same space on every slide and do NOT animate them. This will leave the citations on the screen for the maximum amount of time and make it easy for you to find them when you want to cite them.


Animations slide from presentation

Avoid splitting relevant text and images

Your audience can benefit when related text and images are presented at the same time. This helps to highlight the relationship between the text (Garner & Alley, 2011).

Present key points individually

Presenting key points individually helps keep students engaged in the presentation. You can do so by setting the animations to come in one bullet at a time; if each bullet is a different idea. This helps to break the chunk of time students spend copying slides into smaller, less overwhelming, and more manageable chunks (Apperson, Laws, & Scepansky, 2008).

Avoid using too many animations

Animations should be used to enhance the presentation, not distract from the information. Using too many animations can quickly overwhelm an audience.

Be consistent

Use the same simple animations throughout the presentation to keep a professional look.

Keep it simple

Complex series of animations can be used to help explain and highlight graphs, charts, and images. However, in general, they are just there to bring the text on the screen. Remember that just because the option is there to make the text swirl all around the screen, you do not need to use it.

Remember to double-check

Animation sequences can easily get mixed up. Remember to preview your animations before finalizing each slide.

Apply slide transitions

Slide transitions are often forgotten about in most presentations. Truly, they can be distracting when done wrong. However, by using the same guidelines as the in-slide animations, slide transitions can provide much of the same positives as in-slide animations. Remember, be consistent, keep it simple, and double-check.

Save animations for last

Animations can be great tools to enhance a PowerPoint, however they are truly non-essential, in most cases, to enhancing the presentation. Also, the following point will further illustrate why setting animations should be the last thing you do to a PowerPoint presentation.

Prepare for the worst

Animations require additional resources from the computer. If the computer you are using is already slow or you don’t know FOR SURE how well a computer performs, it is a good idea to make two versions of every presentation; one with your animations and one with no animations. If you saved your animations for last, just save the first copy with no animations, add your animations, and then save the animated presentation under a new file name.


Having two versions of your PowerPoint is great, but it won’t save you if you don’t preview your presentation on the computer you are presenting from.


Video and Sound slide from presentation

Insert (Embed) videos when possible

It is not efficient to stop the full-screen presentation, pull up the web browser, search for your video, and then FINALLY hit “play.” Embedding a video in a presentation eliminates a lot of wasted time; all you need to do is click within the presentation. However, embedding videos can be tricky. You need to have the video saved somewhere on the computer you are using, a flash drive, or a CD. If you save the video to a computer at home and insert it into the presentation, it will show up, but not when you present. Why? PowerPoint assigned a location to retrieve the video. So if you save your video to a flash drive, shared drive, or CD, make sure that you use that flash drive, CD, or have access to the shared drive when you present.


Prepare for the worst

Just like the animations, videos take up a considerable chunk of the computer’s resources. Therefore, it is important to have a backup plan for videos as well. If you have an embedded video, make sure that it will work on the computer you are presenting from. If it doesn’t work within the presentation, or you are streaming directly from the web, you should have your video(s) pulled up on a web browser, loaded, and at the correct start time. This is especially important as most online videos require you to watch an advertisement before the video begins. These advertisements can take upwards of 20 seconds from your presentation. Having your video ready before you begin presenting also means you won’t be searching through other videos with similar names. Finally, previewing your videos before your presentation will let you know if the computer is actually able to play the videos, if you need to adjust the sound levels for the video, and whether or not you should play the video in full-screen mode or not.

Use sounds to highlight key points

Using sounds can highlight key points and, when used sparingly and purposefully, can capture/recapture the audience’s attention (Apperson et al., 2008).

Using sounds in your presentation can be used to grab the audience’s attention, regain their attention, and highlight important information. However, overusing sounds will completely nullify these advantages. If every bullet on your slide comes in with a “BANG” then you are probably overusing sounds in your presentation.

Embedding sounds

Just like videos, if you embed a sound, you’ll need to make sure that you embedded that sound correctly. Embedding a sound follows the same rules as embedding a video.

Prepare for the worst

Just like animations and videos, sounds take up computer resources and it is important to preview your sounds before beginning your presentation. Previewing your sounds will let you know if the sounds are working, if the computer can handle processing the sounds, and whether or not you need to adjust the volume.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts slide from presentation

Control your text and visuals and your presentation will be more effective.

Prepare for worst case scenarios and YOU will be more effective. Be consistent throughout and your presentation will be more efficient and effective.

As mentioned above, these guidelines are not representative of EVERY PowerPoint guideline out there.

However, while these and other guidelines are helpful in creating more effective PowerPoint presentations, they are ONLY guidelines.

Depending on your purposes, you may NEED to bend or break a few of these rules.

What alternatives are out there?


An alternative to PowerPoint is Prezi.

Prezi is a free web-based presentation program.

Because Prezi is web-based, presentations are created, saved, and presented through Prezi’s website.

This is both an advantage and disadvantage. It is an advantage because you can access the presentation from any computer connected to the internet.

Also, Prezi allows simultaneous co-editing of a presentation. It is a disadvantage because if Prezi’s webpage or the internet goes down, you’ll be unable to access your presentations.

Furthermore, if the internet is slow, your presentation will suffer.

Finally, editing slides on Prezi can be daunting. Because it is done in your internet browser and on the internet, precisely placing elements can be difficult.

Most PowerPoint guidelines apply to Prezi.

However, Prezi utilizes non-linear slide transitions.

Without the proper precautions when using Prezi, you may find your audience has become dizzy from the transitions.

A quick way to avoid this problem is to use and preview a few of the many templates Prezi offers. Prezi also offers a quick tutorial to help “newbies” learn their software.

To view the tutorial:


To access the video below, you will need to log into your mentorcommons account BEFORE CLICKING THE LINK BELOW.

Don't have a mentorcommons account?  Visit this page for instructions to get access.

How Can I Improve my PowerPoint Presentation Skills?


Copy and Paste into Browser:


Apperson, J. M., Laws, E. L., & Scepansky, J. A. (2008). An assessment of student preferences for PowerPoint presentation structure in undergraduate courses. Computers & Education, 50(1), 148-153.

Durso, F. T., Pop, V. L., Burnett, J. S., & Stearman, E. J. (2011). Evidence-Based Human Factors Guidelines for PowerPoint Presentations. Ergonomics in Design: The Quarterly of Human Factors Applications, 19(3), 4-8.

Earnest, B. (2011). Save Our Slides: PowerPoint Design That Works. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.

Garner, J. K., & Alley, M. (2011). PowerPoint in the Psychology Classroom: Lessons from multimedia learning research. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 10(2), 95-106.

Resource Webpages: 


For more information or to contribute to this resource please contact Lynn Bartels or James Beil
Feel free to contact Lynn Bartels at (618) 650-2569 or
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