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Professional PowerPoint Presentations With the Rules of Six and More

Shirley Lee

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PowerPoint and all the bells and whistles that come with are being used more and more in business and other presentation venues. Before presenters became so attached to computers for visual aid production, a few rules existed for proper visual design that was often adhered to by the graphic design folks who built slides in the days before the personal computer. Now with everyone having access to a computer, those rules are often ignored during slide design. The result an unprofessional look and information overload. A return to some of the old rules, referred to as the rules of six, is in order. Also new rules are needed with the computer to keep slides with graphics and animations appropriate for professional use. Below are a few rules to consider when designing slides in PowerPoint.

Rules of Six for Slide Creation

  • Use meaningful titles as introduction and summary of slide contents. Be sure to limit the number of words in title to no more than 6.
  • Have no more than 6 bullets per text slide. Sub-bullets should be included in this count. Also it is preferable to have no more than 6 words per bullet.
  • For tables of data, plan no more than 6 rows of data on a table to make it easier to read. However, for most audiences charts or graphs are better than tables. No more than 6 data points (bars, slices, lines) should be on a graph or chart.
  • In relation to talk time on each slide consider for a 30 minute presentation to use 6 (5 minutes of talking per slide) slides or less that only highlight the key points of presentation. Or no more than 12 slides (averaging 2- 3 minutes talk time per slide) where you want to provide some details that might be hard for audience to capture in notes.

Rules for Graphics and Animation

  • Only use images and graphics that summarize key points as a replacement for text, such as charts and graphs. Mixing too much on a slide only makes it crowded and confusing. Remember cute cartoons, silly photos, or movies typically don't add much to a professional presentation.
  • Use animation and sounds wisely and sparingly. A consistent transition between slides does not fall under the animation caution. Transitions help the audience get ready for what is coming next. Also consider design template to get a more professional look with little effort. If the template has a distracting movement in it or the color is not desirable, go to the master slide view to remove the animation or change the background.
  • Remember when it comes to a professional presentation, less really is more. The less the slide has on it, the more the presenter can illuminate on key points. The less words used, the more white space included, which marketing folks say readers find pleasing to the eye. The less the audience has to try to read on the screen, the more attention they can give to the presenter. If that is not convincing enough, consider that note-taking by audience, to supplement the slide contents, actually increases their retention of presented points by as much as 40%.
  • Presenters should consider the black screen option for discussion or activity times, which do not require referencing a slide. To turn black screen on, press the letter B on the computer keyboard during a PowerPoint presentation, the screen will go dark. When ready to continue with the slide show, press B again and the show will return to where it was before.

Please consider utilizing the above rules when designing slides in PowerPoint on the computer to give a more professional appearance to slides and presenter. Remember, just because the makers of PowerPoint include lots of bells and whistles with the software, that doesn't mean that you have to use them. Reduce the chance of information overload on the audience by returning to the old rules of graphic design and adding the new rules offered here.

Shirley Fine Lee, author of “R. A!R. A! A Meeting Wizard's Approach", has worked as a training and development specialist since 1986, and an independent consultant since 2000. She has extensive experience, helping organizations with their team building, training development, meeting facilitation, presentation delivery, and other communication needs. This work involves developing productivity tools, presenting workshops, and writing. For instance, she has authored numerous training manuals and guides, on a wide variety of topics. Her programs include time management, getting organized, problem solving, and team building. Find out more about her and options she provides on her website.


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