At some point in your academic or professional life, you’ll have to stand in front of people and give a talk about a subject, and quite often, you’ll be asked to prepare visual materials to accompany your talk. You might prepare handouts, but odds are, you’ll be asked to prepare materials that you can project on a video screen.

The classic version of these projected materials is the overhead transparency, a thin sheet of clear plastic that you can run through a laser printer or write on with special markers; this medium is slowly disappearing, but it’s still around. Sometimes, you might be able to prepare paper documents and project them to a screen via a document camera, but doc cams aren’t entirely common, and they can only present static images. Instead, you’ll usually be asked to create a dynamic presentation using software such as PowerPoint, Prezi, or Keynote. Many other programs exist, including what Google has to offer, but these are the three most common presentation programs.

Each program has its own special abilities and strengths, but they all share common basic principles that you can manipulate to create memorable, effective, and interesting presentations. Here, you’ll learn basic principles to

  • select an effective presentation format
  • choose readable typefaces
  • place visual elements onscreen
  • choose colors
  • select appropriate backgrounds
  • choose visual and audio effects
  • deliver a memorable, effective presentation 

Three Major Presentation Formats

You can choose from three basic type of format for a presentation based on PowerPoint, Prezi, or Keynote:

  • bullet points
  • illustrated points
  • speaker’s prop

The format you choose should fit your audience and your presentation’s subject.

Bullet Points. The bullet point format is the default layout that most PowerPoint users and viewers are familiar with. Slides created in this format commonly include a title across the top and a cascading series of bulleted lines of text inside a slide’s main text box. An example of this kind of slide appears below, in Figure 1.

Figure 1

 Figure 1: PPT slide using bullet point format


Bullet point-format presentations have several benefits:

  • They are easy to prepare. Just type, press Enter for a new line, and press Tab to create a smaller bullet or Shift+Tab to make a larger bullet.
  • They are useful for highlighting important words or naming concepts that an audience needs to learn.
  • They project a serious tone.

However, bullet-point format presentations also can be boring, and an overload of words will make your audience cringe. You have probably endured at least one bad PowerPoint in your life, and odds are, that bad presentation used the bullet point format.

Illustrated Points. The illustrated points format is similar, but slides created in this type of presentation focus on pictures, and text appears in a supporting role. An example of this kind of slide appears in Figure 2.

Figure 2

 Figure 2: PPT slide using illustrated points format