Last week, I shared two tips for maximizing the impact of your PowerPoint presentations while keeping “Death by PowerPoint” at bay. Keeping with the “less is more” theme presented in Tip #2, this tip shifts more towards aesthetics.
Tip #3: Engage, Don’t Distract
The last way to maximize the impact of your PowerPoint is to limit use of elements that distract more than engage the audience’s attention. Realistically, paying attention to a speaker is difficult enough without the speaker also requiring you to simultaneously ignore animated effects, irritating or indistinguishable color combinations, and other extraneous elements during their talk. However eye-catching these effects seem to you, they ultimately do more harm than good. Remember: your goal is to convey a series of messages, not to make it as difficult as possible for those messages to get through to the audience. Here are some specific ways to keep the distraction to a minimum, so that your audience stays with your message.
Just Say “No!” to Animated Effects.
When designing your slides, avoid using unnecessary animated slide and text effects. Sometimes annoying and almost always distracting, these effects can cause your audience to shift their attention away from the content of your presentation and toward the design of your PowerPoint. If you must animate your slide (i.e. it would help the audience if the labels appear as you discuss parts of a diagram), then limit yourself to the “Appear” animation to keep it as simple as possible.
Plain is Better.
When designing the layout, keep it plain (white background, dark text) and avoid unsettling color combinations, especially this one:
A white background with dark text will ensure your presentation is not only easy on the eyes, but also easy and more economical to print (whether in PowerPoint or PDF format). Reserve colors, instead, for graphs, charts, and diagrams.
When selecting colors for graphs and charts, consider going monochrome—using multiple shades of a single color rather than different colors. Monochromatic distinctions typically show up better when printed in grayscale and, whether printed or presented, are typically easier to distinguish by individuals with color vision deficits. In addition, using the default settings in PowerPoint, monochromatic shades will automatically be ordered from light to dark or dark to light in the legend, and thus the chart or graph itself. For example, take a look at these two pie charts, both printed in gray scale. The first pie chart uses PowerPoint default colors and the second uses monochromatic shades.
Can you tell which pie piece is the 2nd quarter and which is the 4th quarter?
This is what they look like in color:
Be Kind to the Colorblind (and everyone else)!
When you do want multiple colors for charts, diagrams, or graphs, stick with bright high-contrast colors and, whenever possible, test to ensure they are distinguishable when projected on a screen. We have all, at one time or another, been confused or disappointed by colors so muted or darkened by a projector that their purpose is lost. As problematic as this is for people with normal color vision, it is even worse for those with color vision deficits, who are regularly asked by well-meaning presenters to distinguish among colors that otherwise look identical. Below are the common color combinations to avoid in your presentations. Not only can these be indistinguishable by those with color vision deficits, many are indistinguishable when projected.
Remember: color for the sake of color is almost never a good idea. Colors should have a purpose and should help deliver your message, not confuse it.
For some helpful resources about improving your PowerPoint presentations, follow these additional links:
- Faculty Focus Articles about PowerPoint (multiple articles on various PowerPoint issues)
- Why All Designers Need to Understand Color Blindness (a primer on colorblindness and best practices for design)
You can find additional resources in Part One and, for quick and user-friendly training on various PowerPoint features, you can find free tutorials through Office.com, as well as through IU’s agreement with Lynda.com.