There are plenty of great tutorials floating around the Web for how to use the different features of PowerPoint. In fact, here’s Microsoft’s own PowerPoint training page.
As helpful as all of these tips are, there’s not much information in the way of when to use PowerPoint and in what manner. In other words, there’s a lot of information out there about how to use presentation media but not much information about why. Let’s look at three specific ways you can design better presentation media by exploring the practices you’ll want to implement as well as the theory behind those tips.
Design with Audience in Mind
Any screen you light up, any graphic you show, any bulleted list you use should be for your audience. Your goal is to help them understand, to help them see a concept or company or message like you see it. That means your PowerPoint presentation should always be crafted with the audience in mind. In their “What is PowerPoint?” video, Microsoft says, “When you are ready to deliver, present with confidence. Presenter view shows your current slide, speaker notes, and your next slide, so you can stay focused and connect with your audience.” However, if you are using PowerPoint to help you remember what comes next or to give you text to read, you’ll probably find it pretty difficult to connect with your audience. When you are reading from notes or screen prompts, you aren’t making the eye contact that research tells us we need to establish social connections.
Pay Attention to Color
Color affects our mood, it helps create an environment, and it sets the tone. With that in mind, think about the color story your presentation slides are telling. What tone does it set? Here are a few studies that show how color can affect us.
- A study published by the American Psychological Association in 2011 found that the color red “enhances the force and velocity of motor output.”
- A 2012 study across four experiments found that the color green fostered greater creativity.
- In a historical review of studies on color psychology (a great read if you’d like to dig further into this topic), Andrew J. Elliot references studies that have proven that the color blue is linked to feelings of calmness and relaxation.
When you choose the colors for your presentation media, do so thoughtfully. In addition, keep your color palette consistent. The same way large marketing firms created a color palette by which to brand a company, you should create a color palette for your presentation consistent with the message you want to send and the mood you want to create.
Make Movement Meaningful
Finally, edit yourself and your slides. There are plenty of neat transitions and animations you can use in PowerPoint, but don’t get sucked in by them. Just because you can make a word fly across the screen, doesn’t mean you should. As we talked about in our last post, too much movement on the screen will only upstage you. Research shows that it only takes our brain 1/10 of a second to process movement. So when you have lots of movement on the screen, your brain is almost immediately drawn to that movement and is focused on understanding and assigning meaning to it. Which is great if the movement has purpose, like a statistic that slowly expands to demonstrate a growing problem or a video example demonstrating something that you can’t perform live. That kind of movement grabs attention and draws the audience toward greater understanding. But movement just for the sake of movement can quickly become distracting.
Before figuring out how to use all the tools PowerPoint has to offer, remember first to consider why you are using them. Slides shouldn’t be created randomly without direction or purpose. Practice should be grounded in theory. This will allow for a strong foundation on which you can build a great presentation.