Ten Tips for Making a Great PowerPoint Presentation

One thing that seems to be automatically assumed is that everyone knows how to use PowerPoint effectively. It certainly seems simple enough. But the truth is there are definitely some basic tips and pointers you should know to help you and to help you provide your guest lecturers. I am sure you have sat through a guest lecturer's slides that are covered in words, too many animations, pictures that are not clear, or charts and tablets that are too small to read. Or how about that more common experience with the lecturer showing up and you notice they have too many slides? Recently, we had a lecturer's presentation with over 500 slides. No lie. I am sure you know what happened. She didn't get anywhere close to covering the material she put together, which was disorganized, with a lot of poor-quality images, and it included a lot of information we didn't need her to cover. She got frustrated, realizing she wasn't going to have enough time. The students got frustrated because she started moving through the slides really fast, went over the class time, and still didn't finish. Sound familiar? 

The actual purpose of PowerPoint is to be a visual aid for the presenter to present their ideas, concepts, or information ("What is the Purpose of Microsoft PowerPoint," 2021). It is meant to act as cue cards, reminding the lecturer of what point they want to make and helping the audience follow along. But this basic concept frequently gets blurred, and the slides literally become the presenter's narrative. Given all the content we need to cover, we need to provide clear PowerPoint presentations and help the presenter effectively cover the material they have planned. 

So here are some tips to help you improve your PowerPoint presentations and pass them on to your guest lecturers. 

  1.   Prepare your content first. Don't immediately open a blank PowerPoint and start making your notes right on the slides. Before placing it on the slides, map out, draw out, or write out the main concepts you want to present and the information you want to include. The slides should contain those key concepts. The narrative should be on a different document or location. 
  1. Know your audience. When we, as faculty, teach, we know our students, but our guest lecturers don't. They know they are PA students but don't know what they have already learned, where they are in their training, and specifically what they need to learn concerning the topic the lecturer will be presenting (course or topic instructional objectives). I am sure many of you have heard these common complaints from the students about guest lecturers: they talk down to us, they lecture over our heads, or about things we don't need to know. They don't understand what a PA is or does, and they don't cover the objectives. You can help your guest lecturers be more successful by sharing some information about your students, as mentioned above, and providing them with the basic tips for PowerPoint presentations provided here. 
  1.   Fewer words! Theoretically, each slide should represent one concept or idea with minimal words. You, as the speaker, can fill in the rest through speaking. But, and I am guilty of this, I put more words on the slides so my presentation functions as a study guide, so students don't have to try to scribble down notes as I am presenting. Yet, we have all experienced how it feels when a slide goes up, covered from top to bottom and side to side with words. It can be overwhelming. So, try to decrease the word clutter. That goes for images, too. One carefully, intentionally selected image to help solidify a point can have a greater impact than words. As the saying goes, a picture can be worth a thousand words. 
  1. Fonts. Choosing the best typeface (font) really can impact the presentation. PowerPoint offers so many options that it can be overwhelming. The key is that the text must be clear, crisp, and easily readable. Believe it or not, you should have some variety in the fonts. Doing so can make it more pleasing to the eyes. For example, your headers and subheaders could be in a different font than your main text. However, too many changes in font can be distracting. 
  1. Colors. This is another area where folks can go a little overboard. The most important concept of color is to ensure a sharp contrast between the slide's background and the font's color. If both are light or dark, they become difficult to see. Certain background colors, like bright yellows or greens, can be hard on the eyes. Textured backgrounds can also be visually challenging. 
  1. Design. Fortunately, PowerPoint provides design templates that can help you with font, color, and design issues. They are designed to make your life easier. You will find these under the Design Tab. These templates can be changed to anything you want, but they are a good starting point, especially if you don't have a lot of time. 
  1. Images can greatly enhance the presentation, as mentioned previously. However, make sure it is a high-quality image. Clear and sharp so that even the student in the last row can clearly see it. You can use several resources for images, including Canva and Pexels, which both offer free versions. 
  1. 2/4/8 Rule. Determining how many slides you can have given the allotted time is a common challenge for most faculty and guest lecturers. The 2/4/8 rule can help with that, as well as how much to put on each slide. The rule is:

      2 minutes of talking time per slide 

You can say a lot more in 2 minutes than you can on a slide, which is the point. Only include the most important information and significant words that capture the content you will present. This general rule of thumb can be helpful before you start putting your PowerPoint together. For example, if you have an hour for your lecture, which usually means 50 minutes of teaching time, at 2 minutes a slide, that would be about 25 slides. Knowing this before you start can help you stay focused on the key points you wish to cover.If you wait until after you create your presentation and then discover you have twice as many slides as can be covered in an hour using this general rule, it can be more challenging and time-consuming to go back and figure out which ones you can cut. 

No more than 4 bullets per slide, and

No more than 8 words per bullet

Four bullets, eight words per bullet. This is not a hard and fast rule, just a guide. But with that said, don't completely ignore it. The slide should be visibly comfortable and easy to read with a balance of words and open space. 

There was an ER physician who used to come and teach our students. When his slide packet arrived with 200 slides for a 2-hour lecture, I told him he needed to cut it down based on the 2/4/8 rule. He was aware of the rule and made a bet with me that he was confident he would get through all the slides. I lost the bet. He did it. But that is a rare occurrence, and it was evident that he planned and practiced. 

  1. Don't read your slides! This one dovetails with the next one. A common complaint from students regarding their lecturer evaluations is how much they dislike when the person presenting, be it faculty or a guest lecturer, stands there and reads from their slides. This approach negates the purpose of using PowerPoint. That is why you need to plan and practice, which brings us to our last tip. 
  1. Practice. Yep, really. It would be best to run through your presentation a few times before actually doing it. If you don't, one of a few things can happen. You have too much information for the time allotted, and you don't get through it. You have too little information and end too early. You appear disorganized and unprepared because you are fumbling over what to say for the slide and end up reading them. Practice helps to ensure your presentation will go how you envision it and want it to. 

As PA educators, we make some of the common mistakes many make when putting together a presentation using PowerPoint. In addition, part of our role when we invite guest lecturers to present is to provide them with some guidance ahead of time, especially the 2/4/8 rule, to help mitigate frustration for everyone. In my experience, the guidance and tips are welcomed and well-received.

This article focused on presenting the key basics of PowerPoint. Keeping the basics in mind will help to negate some of the common issues that come up with presentations. PowerPoint is a tool for the presenter. It is not meant to entertain students. There are many other tools and options PowerPoint provides that, when used appropriately, can certainly enhance a presentation, such as animations, slide transitions, or using shapes or SmartArt. However, the ineffective use of these tools can easily detract from the quality of the presentation.  To learn more, a simple Google search will provide many resources for learning PowerPoint. I have included two Microsoft tutorial links below. 


7 Tips to Improve Your Next PowerPoint Presentation. (n.d.). Softwarekeep. https://softwarekeep.com/blogs/tips-and-tricks/7-tips-to-improve-your-next-PowerPoint-presentation 

What is the Purpose of Microsoft PowerPoint. (2021, March 1). SlideModel. https://slidemodel.com/what-is-the-purpose-of-microsoft-powerpoint/ 


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