Your PowerPoint Presentation: Developing an Effective Design

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The Power Of PowerPoint

You’ve gathered your material, organized your outline, and now you are ready to put together a presentation that will pack a punch.  PowerPoint is a powerful tool in the hands of a wise designer. Once you understand a few basics, you, too, can put together a PowerPoint presentation that will be effective rhetorically.

Before You Begin . . .

As you begin the designing process, there are a few principles that need to be understood:

  • The design should never distract from the message of the slide.
  • The message of each slide should be short and simple.
  • The color and font combinations should be conducive to your subject in order to aid your audience’s ability to relate to the material.
  • The transitions should not distract.
  • The PowerPoint slides should support instead of replace the verbal presentation.

Now that you have been introduced to these few basic principles, it would be helpful to investigate them further. 

The Design Should Never Distract

You may have been conditioned to believe the bigger and brighter the design used, the more impressive.  The flashing neon signs and bold colored billboards distract you for a moment while delivering a message, but an effective PowerPoint presentation needs to communicate content without distraction.

As you begin your investigation regarding how to put together a PowerPoint presentation, you might be intrigued by all the bells and whistles offered within the PowerPoint package.  You will discover funky background designs, crazy fonts, different shapes, and even high tech transitions. This article will help you discover what you need to know in order to avoid distracting design elements when developing a PowerPoint presentation.  Have fun investigating all the options, but remember the design should never distract!

The Message Should Be Short and Simple

As the PowerPoint presenter, you have gathered and organized your material with the intention of impressing your audience.  Before you begin the technical side of putting together your PowerPoint presentation, highlight the key words in your typed speech that you want your audience to remember.  If you find yourself highlighting too many words or phrases, grab another color of highlighter and go over your presentation again.  With the second color, highlight only those choice words and phrases you believe are key to communicating your presentation points. Those highlighted words will become your PowerPoint slides.

Don’t be afraid to put one or two bold words on a PowerPoint slide.  If those bold words are the words you want your audience to remember, then design the slide in such a way that the words remain in a prominent place on the screen, while you emphasize the significance of those words during your verbal presentation.

As an example, if you are giving a lecture on teen smoking, then your first slide could be similar to the slide demonstrated in Figure 1.1.

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Figure 1,1
Introductory slide for teen smoking presentation 

While the slide in Figure 1.1 remains on the screen, take the time to explain to your audience that according to Marshall Brain (1997), the author of The Teenager’s Guide to the Real World, “On average, each minute of smoking reduces a person’s life expectancy by a minute” (n.p.).  The bold slide above emphasizes the significance of “One Minute” as you develop the impact of smoking two packs a day on life expectancy.

Color and Font Combinations Should Be Conducive

Notice in Figure 1.1 the black background with white lettering and a sans serif font.  Joe Mackiewicz (2007), in his article “Perceptions of Clarity and Attractiveness in PowerPoint Graph Slides,” helps PowerPoint designers understand the importance of color choice when putting together a slide show presentation. Mackiewicz states, “Different colors generate different psychological and physiological responses” (147). Gribbons (1991) in his article on visual literacies offers that “Sharp contrast in colors draws attention.” Gribbons goes on to say, “Darker colors relate more significance than lighter colors” (46). The subject matter of teen smoking is a matter of significance that needs to draw the listener’s attention; thus, a black background satisfies the designer’s need to attract attention while emphasizing the significance of the subject matter.

Your subject matter and mood of your presentation will help to guide you regarding the color choice of your presentation.  Blue is a safe choice that satisfies most audiences.  Choungourian et al. (1968) conducted research regarding the visual impact of color; their data revealed that blue is universally liked, and the preference of blue by viewers has been labeled a “blue phenomenon” in the design industry.  If you want to venture from the safety of a blue background, then, according to Mackiewicz, here are some other suggestions to consider:

  • Warm colors are considered arousing, active, and lead to higher levels of anxiety.
  • Cool colors are peaceful, calm, relaxing, and pleasant.
  • Ratings for attractiveness also depend on sufficient contrast between background color and slide details.

In Figure 1.1, the white lettering is a cool color that provides sufficient contrast so that the slide is viewed as attractive by the audience.  Other spot colors can also be effective; an example of this is the yellow in Figure 1.2. Remember that the choice of spot colors must provide a significant contrast so as to be viewed easily by the audience.

Font choice must also be a part of your design consideration.  Hutton (1987) who is an expert on typography states, “Typeface plays a key role in conveying a message because character type can create visual images, association, and meaning through the perceptions of the viewing audience” (25).

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Figure 1.2
Spot color combinations for PowerPoint slides

In Figure 1.2, I chose two spot colors with a black background.  The inclusion of the white boarder for this slide was done with audience appeal in mind.  Bosley (1992), who did research on the psychological impact of design, explains that the use of a rectangular outline around the text will appeal to the males in the audience and the curved corners will appeal to the females in the audience.  Also, the font style has a youthful element, reminding the audience that it is “teen” smoking that is being addressed. As you can see from the above example color, font, and shapes must be conducive to the subject matter of the presentation as well as appeal to the viewing audience.