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PowerPointers: Tips for Students and Faculty

Tim Bates, Recreational Sports Outdoor Program

Students who have not previously created a PowerPoint presentation often ask me for pointers for using the program. This is more or less what I tell them. When using PowerPoint or other presentational aids, new and current users of these tools will profit from reading or reviewing these tips for creating PowerPoint with punch.

As with any educational endeavor, the usual four key aspects must be considered.

  • The presenter/instructor
  • The student/audience
  • The content or skill
  • The methods for presenting the materials.

In the end, the presentation has to carefully balance all of these elements. A change in any one of the four causes a change in the others.

When developing PowerPoint, or other informational staging, presenters need to understand their audience’s needs and abilities. In fact, PowerPoint might not be the best choice for the situation. As classroom lights are turned off, some students may be turned off by the dismal prospect of being held captive by yet another PowerPoint production . To use it well, you must use it wisely and sparingly—incorporating other techniques to support delivery of the content or skill or using it as a flowchart for following along. At its worst it is a not-so-thinly disguised lecture; at its best it can enhance both presenters’ organization and learners’ attention, comprehension, and retention.

Strategies for Increasing PowerPoint’s Effectiveness

Many of these strategies are similar to those used by other media to convey ideas. Look at print advertising to see what catches your eye and helps you remember information. What works there probably will work with a PowerPoint.


  • Use “sans serif” of fonts which are easier to read because they lack decorative flourishes.
  • Be consistent from slide to slide by creating a master slide
  • Use “bold” to emphasize key points. Typically, left justification is easy to read. . And unjustified (ragged) right is better than justified.
  • Use font size around 20 points or higher (depending on the font style) for easy reading. Project it to test it for appropriate legibility.
  • Choose a lettering color which contrasts well with its background, again for easier reading. Black lettering on white background is an example of high contrast. Avoid brightly colored backgrounds.
  • Employ no more than two font styles to keep the slide from becoming too busy.  
  • Change up font sizes to create a flow for the reader (e.g.,. Start an outline with bigger font sized heading, then get smaller with informational subsets).
  • When there is a priority order to your information, use numbering; when there is not, use bullets.


  • Use graphics that complement and reinforce the information, not just fill space. The images can be powerful educational enhancements.
  • Make images large enough for the audience to see them clearly.
  • Choose clear photos with high contrast. Avoid low-resolution images taken from the web.
  • Employ diagrams and tables that are as simple as possible while getting across the information you need. Too many grid lines and supporting text can create confusion.


  • Because too much information on a slide becomes overwhelming, restrict information to 6-10 lines.
  • Give a maximum of six key pieces of information per slide because that is what people can remember.
  • Break up your presentation with non-PowerPoint, engaging activities which prompt thought such as checking for understanding, discussion, inquiry, groups, black/white-board,… related to the subject at hand so that a whole presentation is not totally dominated by PowerPoint. This “chunking” (breaking a presentation into chunks) should occur about every 15 minutes or less.


  • Various slide transitions can add movement to the presentation, but can also be irritating. Use with caution.
  • When you want to make a sequence of points, one at a time, have them appear one at a time.
  • Many animations, like spinning text or flying text, are distracters.


  • As a presenter, keep the attention on yourself. Don’t entirely turn your presentation over to the projected screen. Use the information on the screen to support or emphasize your points. PowerPoint should support you, not the reverse.
  • Draw attention to the essential pieces of what you have on the screen by reading only them aloud. Secondary bits of information may not need to be read aloud. Audience members can read faster than you can speak. If you are not going to read the information, allow time for the audience to read it.
  • Use a remote to advance slides. If someone else advances your slides for you, have good cues for orchestrating the flow.


  • For educational presentations, handouts with slides or the content of slides helps students keep up with the information. They can take notes on the handout.
  • Some presenters like to post their PowerPoint presentations to the Web before or after the talk. To focus their audience’s attention, some like to post their notes with missing ingredients which students can fill in as the session progresses.
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Last modified on 06/24/13 02:03 PM
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