For faculty and students alike, PowerPoint tends to be the presentation format of choice for class lectures and project presentations. It’s really easy to “get things right” with PowerPoint. Let’s start with a quick survey.

If you selected “support your in class presentation, lecture, and/or discussion you’re on the right track. If you selected any of the other options you might find yourself misusing a presentation tool like PowerPoint. The content that you include in your PowerPoint should support what you say. It’s not a intended to serve as your teleprompter or lecture notes for students. Here are a few tips to help guide the design of your presentations:

Get your background right

  • Avoid large areas of vivid colors, as this can be perceived as unpleasant and overwhelming.
  • Use white or low-saturation pastel colors for large regions and backgrounds.
Poor choice of background color, text,
and use of bullet points

Use fonts that are easy to read

  • Sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, or Calibri tend to be easiest to read on screens.
  • Avoid decorative fonts or only use them for headers.
Fonts that work well for PowerPoint Presentations

Think about how you use your slides

  • Are you reading, telling, or explaining? If you read your slides verbatim, you may lose the attention of your audience.
  • Include only key points and use the 6×6 rule: no more than 6 words per line and 6 lines per slide.

Layout and Tables

  • Change the layout of slides to make them appear more interesting. A bulleted list may not be the best layout for your content. 
  • Consider using two column layouts when illustrating comparisons and pros and cons.

Tables, charts, and images: How and why?

  • Use only enough text to clearly label the graphic or chart
  • Use the same style of graphics throughout the presentation– keep colors and formatting consistent.
  • Make the edges of important features more distinct so they will stand out.
  • Make your visuals colorblind-safe– use luminance in addition to color to encode information. 
  • Use bright, saturated colors for small regions, as this will make it easier for the brain to perceive them.

Other things to consider

  • Test your presentation once it is complete to make sure that all text, images, and graphics show up.
  • Limit the number of transitions used to avoid distracting the audience.
  • Use a wireless clicker so you can move around the room during your presentation

At NYU STERN’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning I teach a faculty workshop on creating effective visuals. This work was informed by the writing of Edward Tufte, Seth Godin, Nathan Yau, Richard Mayer, and my own experience working with faculty and students. 

Creating effective visuals: Getting the simple things right