Do’s and Don’ts When Using PowerPoint

How many times have you gone to prepare for a presentation (and by presentation I mean any type of public speaking such as classroom lectures, in-person trainings, seminars, etc.), and you instantly think “first, I need to create a PowerPoint presentation”? Typically yes, it can be a great resource to use, on the other hand, if it is not used or created right it could be the worst addition to your presentation.

There are a lot of things to consider when deciding to use PowerPoint within your presentation. The first question to ask yourself, will it be beneficial? If you are even contemplating the use of PowerPoint you are likely going to say yes to that question.

So then, let’s take that question a bit deeper, would the audience be able to learn and retain everything you have to say without the use of the PowerPoint presentation? A lot of times people just want to use a PowerPoint presentation simply because it gives the audience something to look at, and this is the worst reason to use one! You don’t want to be presenting and have your audience distracted rather than paying attention to you and the information you are delivering.

So, think again, do you really need a PowerPoint presentation?

A PowerPoint presentation is a good addition when it enhances your speech. If you have a lot to say but want to have something for the audience to visually follow, then yes it is a good addition. If you want the audience to be able to read quotes, or see visuals then yes it is a good addition.

Now, if you have decided that a PowerPoint presentation would be a good addition to your presentation, here are some critical do’s and don’ts to help you with your PowerPoint so it is a valuable part of your presentation and not just a distraction.


What To Do!


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DO start with an agenda slide. Let your audience know what they can expect from your presentation such as topics to be covered, any activities they can expect, if you will allow questions during the presentation or if you would prefer they wait until the end. However, make sure you don’t start discussing the different topics during the agenda slide, you don’t want to get off track and confuse your audience. Not a lot of time should be spent on this slide. Simply just let your audience know the format and direction of your presentation so they know what to expect.

DO use images and graphics. Just make sure what you are putting in your slides are appropriate and relevant to the topic you are presenting. You don’t need to incorporate a cat picture when you are talking about learning theories.

DO keep the amount of time spent on each slide to a minimum. Aim for roughly 2 minutes per slide for large content filled slides. If you are using your slides for more of a “this is what we are talking about” it is okay to stay on the slide longer than 2 minutes. Just remember to keep your audience engaged!

DO use bullets. Using bullets will force you to not read word for word from the screen and make you more involved in your presentation rather than just be a talking head.

DO allow time for questions. Don’t plan your presentation so close to your allotted time that your audience isn’t able to ask questions. It’s helpful if you make your very last slide just a basic blank slide with the word “questions?” on it, this will not only help you remember but will visually show your audience now is the time to ask those questions they have.

DO PRACTICE!! I’m going to sound like a broken record when it comes to this point in regards to presentations but that’s simply because it is the most important point! Practicing will help calm nerves, give you an idea of how long your presentation runs and how long you sit on each slide. Practice not reading your slides word for word and it’ll prepare you for any hiccups you might find along the way. For example, spelling errors, you didn’t include a point on a slide, color scheme doesn’t look as good as you thought, etc.


What Not To Do!

Now that you have some basic points to make sure to follow when using a PowerPoint presentation, here’s a few things you should never do.


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DON’T cram more than three key points onto one slide. This is a general rule of thumb as you don’t want to overwhelm your audience with too much information at once. There is one exception to this rule and that is for the agenda slide. The agenda slide is very basic and you’re really using it to just let your audience know what to expect. You can definitely put more than three points onto this slide but just be aware to not make it too overwhelming.

DON’T put word for word that you are speaking on your slide. Your PowerPoint should not be used as your note card. The audience came to have you tell them about a topic, not to stare at the back of your head while you simply read something they could easily just read themselves.

DON’T use paragraphs. Keep the slide simple and clean, unless you are including a quote. When using a quote, a paragraph is acceptable but if the quote is indeed a paragraph give it its own slide.

DON’T overuse sound and animation. Some people discover sound and animation in PowerPoint and get a bit carried away with both tools. Just because something is capable of being animated or you found a cool sound you like, doesn’t mean you should use it! Be wary of using overpowering animations that they become more of a distraction. A light fade in or fade out is fine, they aren’t overbearing but still add a nice touch to the presentation, but too much use of fly-in’s or checkers can be a bit overwhelming to look at.

DON’T use acronyms unless you are absolutely, without a doubt, positive every member in your audience is fully aware of that acronym. Just imagine how awful it would be to be engaged in a presentation then the presenter uses an acronym that you have never heard of. I don’t know about you, but my mind wouldn’t be focused on the presentation at that point, I would instead be trying to figure out what the heck the presenter was referring to.


If you decide to incorporate PowerPoint or other visuals in your presentation just remember that these are additional tools to help your presentation, they should not be the high point or foundation of your presentation. Remember that the slides in your PowerPoint should be used for talking points, not to show the audience the exact verbiage you are saying.



Audrey is a senior Instructional Designer with the Learning & Professional Development team at Northern Arizona University. She has a B.S. in Electronic Media and Film with an emphasis in Entertainment Management and an M.Ed. in Educational Technology from NAU. With her experience as a newsroom weather director and on-screen talent, as well as multiple years of experience teaching in a university classroom setting, Audrey brings a unique perspective to the LPD team.

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