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Best Practices for Making Awesome Slide Decks

When you prepare a formal slide presentation, there are several things to remember to convey your message effectively.

Stick to standard sans serif fonts

To ensure your presentation will look the same everywhere—and on every computer—it’s best to stick with standard fonts available on most devices. Otherwise, PowerPoint will try to replace missing fonts, which could alter your slide layouts. 

Sans serif fonts are more precise, appear clean, and are easier to read on screen. Each letter is clear-cut without wings or curves at its points. Popular sans serif styles include Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, and Calibri.

Incorporate plenty of contrast

Adequate contrast is also needed to ensure readability regardless of the font used. Opt for light type on a dark background or a light background with dark text.

Consider the environment your slides will be viewed in as well. For example, do you plan to show the presentation on a computer monitor or a large presentation screen? How these conditions render your presentation can impact how much contrast your color choices have, reducing readability.

Avoid all caps

All caps in presentations have the same effect as all caps in an email. It feels like you are yelling at the audience. All caps can also be difficult to read if there are more than a few words on the screen. Use all caps as sparingly as possible.

Stay away from scripts and italics

While scripts, handwriting, and novelty typefaces might be pretty, they are often difficult to read. Avoid them in PowerPoint presentations.

The same is true of italics. Anything you do to a font to add emphasis should make it easier to read, not harder. For example, for presentations viewed at a distance, any slanting can make your text more challenging to read.

Make it big enough

The size of your text is a major factor in readability. While your font choice can have an impact, text size is also crucial. Here are some guidelines:

  • Primary copy and bullets: 18-24 points
  • Headers or titles: 36 to 44 points

Consider the screen size as well. With a smaller screen in a larger space, everything will appear smaller. The opposite is true of an oversized screen in a small room. 

Limit the amount of text per slide

Chances are you have a lot to say. But cramping it all in one slide is not best for your audience. If you must use a lot of text on a single slide, be sure to pause longer on these slides so that your audience has time to read it. A better option is always to split your ideas into multiple slides with no more than four bullet points per slide.

Effective presentations limit text per slide, use sans serif fonts, and keep the text large enough to be viewed at a distance.
Effective presentations limit text per slide, use sans serif fonts, and keep the text large enough to be viewed at a distance.

Use fonts consistently

Use the same type of font throughout your slide deck. While it may be tempting to use every one of your favorite fonts in your slide deck, using the same fonts will allow viewers to focus more on your content than the design. Consistency also adds a level of professionalism to your presentation.

Select pleasing colors

Choose colors that enhance the slideshow’s appearance, not distract or give your audience a headache. Start with a built-in theme to ensure good contrast and color. Be mindful when overlaying colors, for example, red text on a green background is very difficult to read. 

Don’t overuse animations and effects

Consider your audience and slideshow’s purpose. For example, what might be engaging for a classroom of eight-year-olds will seem unprofessional to a group of corporate executives.

Be subtle and purposeful with any effects you use. Ask yourself, “Does the animation or effect enhance your message or distract from it?” If you want to use an effect, Appear is an acceptable choice. However, you’ll want to avoid trying to dazzle your audience with crazy font tricks, which will only distract people from what you are trying to say.

Use a standard presentation rule

Following tried-and-true methods can help you to easily structure your presentation.

10/20/30 rule: Have no more than 10 slides, a presentation no longer than 20 minutes, and a font size no smaller than 30 points.

Five-by-Five rule: Have no more than five words per line and five lines per slide.

5/5/5 rule: Have no more than five words per line, five lines per slide, and five text-heavy slides in a row.

Seven-by-seven rule: Have no more than seven words per line and seven lines per slide.

Using these tips as a guide will help you create more effective presentations. Be sure to rehearse beforehand. If you can, display your presentation on a large TV to simulate how an audience seated at a distance will view it. This will allow you to check your design choices and ensure your presentation is readable.