Keep the Focus on Your Message, Not Your PowerPoint Slides

Focus on Your Message

Every November, our employees are summoned to the training facility for the annual health care insurance meeting. In advance of open enrollment, a representative from the firm that we work with delights us with his presentation on the status of health care. What’s in with the new plan? What’s out? How much will it all cost?

Unfortunately, any delight we might get from this important message is lost amid the flaws in the presentation. Picture 17 different font types, with as many different colors. The most clichéd, cringe-worthy music drowning out his voice. Pixelated and distorted charts and graphs. Scanned documents that are meant to pass as slides. Animation for the sake of showing us that he knows how to animate text, images, and everything else that you can possibly put on a slide. And then, there’s the clip art. The dreadful clip art.

Worst of all, the presentation trivializes what might be the most important issue in the lives of our employees: their health care.

In an effort to help the presenter (and our employees), I offered my feedback, and gave him a few actionable tips to help him construct a more effective presentation. It’s those tips I’d like to share with you here.

  1. Write a story first. Far too many times, presentations are written entirely in PowerPoint. That’s a completely backwards approach. Think about how a book is illustrated. First the story is written. Then, graphics, pictures, graphs are all added to illustrate and expand on what’s being said within the story. Since you’re going to be a storyteller, you should start by writing your story, then adding slides to support it.
  2. Use a customized theme. While PowerPoint offers many template choices, chances are your audience has already seen them. To help make your presentation more unique, consider creating your own template, one that has a consistent look and feel, cover to cover, while also matching your brand and the topic you’re presenting.
  3. Keep it simple. You and your message should be the focus of the presentation, not the slides themselves. Slides are only there to provide visual support to your message. Remember, your audience is there to hear from you. Don’t let your message get drowned out by unnecessary, busy, bloated, clunky slides.
  4. Less text is best. Again, slides are meant to support your message, not deliver it for you. So limit the use of bullet points and text whenever and wherever possible. Make every word on the screen count. Use as few words as possible to convey the crux of your message, and cut out everything else.
  5. Use legible fonts. A good rule of thumb is to choose from a Sans-Serif font family. The next consideration is the size of the font. Understanding that your text will be viewed from a variety of angles and distances in the room, you must size it correctly. For slide titles, stay within the 36-44 point range, and for body content, never dip below the 24-point size. And when it comes to font color, use dark text on light backgrounds, or light text on dark backgrounds.
  6. Recreate charts and graphs. If you have a great chart that doesn’t fit your presentation stylistically, recreate it. When reconstructing it, remove any unnecessary data, keeping the focus on the most critical components only.
  7. Use high quality graphics only. For the love of all things holy and good in life, please, under any and all circumstances, do not use clip art! It’s childish, dated, unprofessional, and a sure-fire way to lose all credibility with your audience. When using images, only use high-quality graphics and photographs that complement your brand and presentation theme. When adding graphics and photos to your presentation, always use high-resolution files and never be tempted to stretch the image in a way that would distort or downgrade the resolution.
  8. Timely use of video. When used appropriately, video can elevate your message and keep your audience engaged. For example, if you were sharing a story about a client, there’s a good chance that client’s testimonial would be more powerful than you telling the audience what they said.
  9. Refrain from using sound, transition, and animation effects. Just because PowerPoint offers those effects, it doesn’t mean you have to use them. In fact, I would suggest never using them. Similar to the use of PowerPoint-supplied clip art, such effects have the potential to come off as childish and unprofessional.
  10. One thing at a time. At any given moment, during your presentation, the only thing that needs to be visible is what you are talking about. If you lay out all of your points at once, your audience will read ahead of you. Instead of listening to you, they’ll be waiting for you to catch up to them. Remember: the slide deck is there to support your message. As the presenter of that message, your job is to control the flow of information.
  11. Duplicate your closing slide. Why? Think about it: if you have a strong call to action on the last slide, and you accidentally with your clicker or mouse forward that presentation, you’ll effectively end the slideshow. This can really derail the crescendo of the presentation. Duplicating the closing slide is like insurance for your forgetfulness.

So the next time you’re asked to present, follow those simple tips to create a more effective presentation. And don’t forget, as a member of, you can have our consultants review your presentation in advance of your next meeting!

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Will Adams

Will Adams is the GM for Small Business Services for Will leads the company’s efforts in serving small business owners and their employees through consulting, software, education, employee training, and advocacy. Will is also the co-founder of a successful Software as a Service (SaaS) business that currently serves small museums and family offices throughout North America. In addition to his business interests, Will serves on the board of Atlanta Children’s Foundation, connecting individuals, organizations, and resources to meet the needs of children in foster care.