How to give better PowerPoint presentations and improve your slides to keep an audience engaged

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How to give better PowerPoint presentations and improve your slides to keep an audience engaged
It's important to know how to create well-designed PowerPoint presentations to help your audience follow along and stay engaged.lovro77/Getty Images
  • You can improve your PowerPoint presentations by both improving your presentation skills and making better use of the program.
  • To create a more compelling PowerPoint presentation, you can use tricks like animated charts, a background soundtrack, or embedded fonts.
  • Here are 17 tips for making cleaner slides, speaking more effectively, and using little-known PowerPoint tools for smarter presentations.
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Microsoft PowerPoint remains the most common platform to create and deliver presentations.

No matter what your content, you can make a more compelling presentation when you've toned some common presentation skills and also mastered some of PowerPoint's lesser-known features.

How to be a better PowerPoint presenter

PowerPoint is a powerful program for creating and delivering presentations, but to make a better presentation, you need to improve your presentation game. Too many presentations rely like a crutch on common PowerPoint features, leading to meetings that are bland and boring. Before we get to making better use of PowerPoint itself, here are eight ways to become a better presenter.

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Outline your presentation. Before you begin creating your PowerPoint deck, outline it. This will help you find the structure of your presentation and ensure that there is some symmetry among the major ideas you want to convey and a logical flow to the delivery.

Don't spell it all out on the slides. A common mistake is to put everything you want to say on a slide and essentially just read off your own presentation. A good slide deck articulates key ideas in bullet form; you add color and definition to that basic structure when you speak.

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Learn to speak extemporaneously. Find a middle ground between reading verbatim off cards or the PowerPoint deck and just winging it. Rehearse your presentation - several times, if needed - and become familiar enough with the material that keywords on the screen can help you speak extemporaneously without referring to notes. The best PowerPoint presenters appear polished, but not memorized.

Speak slowly to avoid verbal pauses. Many people - particularly those who are uncomfortable with presenting - tend to talk too fast, which can be difficult for an audience to follow. When you practice, make a deliberate effort to slow down your speech and build natural pauses into your presentation. An added benefit to speaking more slowly is you can think ahead and avoid inserting verbal pauses, like "umm" and "you know." It'll take practice and effort to work those out of your lexicon, but speaking slowly and deliberately makes a big difference and will make you sound much more professional.

Omit punctuation when possible. Punctuation, especially exclamation points, can look amateurish on-screen, and the same is true of excessive formatting (like bold, italic, and underlines). Convey that kind of emphasis while you speak.

Avoid standard clipart. The desire to add visual flair to a presentation is understandable, but PowerPoint's clipart and freely available stock images are visual cliches. Look for contextually relevant images you can use or skip the visuals entirely.

Minimize transitions. Likewise, be careful when applying transitions to your slide deck. Simple fades are often fine, but wipes, slides, and other dramatic effects tend to look sophomoric. Be tasteful and judicious in your use of any visual effects.

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Know where to look. Finally, where do you position your eyes when you're delivering a presentation? One trick people are taught is to gaze over the heads of the audience towards the back of the room. But don't do that - it's obvious you're not actually looking at anyone. A much better technique: Make a deliberate effort to speak to specific people in the room. As you speak, look directly at a single person for a sentence or two, then change your gaze and speak to someone else on the other side of the room.

How to make a better PowerPoint presentation

Here are nine ways to get more out of PowerPoint and create a killer presentation.

Start your presentation instantly

Few things look as unprofessional as fumbling around trying to start your presentation in the PowerPoint app. But you can skip all that by setting your presentation to start instantly.

1. When your PowerPoint deck is complete, click "File" and "Save As."

2. In the Save As dialog box, change the "Save as" type to "PowerPoint Show" and store it somewhere easy to find, like your desktop.

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How to give better PowerPoint presentations and improve your slides to keep an audience engaged
Save a finished presentation as a PowerPoint Show so it'll launch directly into Slide Show mode.Dave Johnson/Insider

3. When you're ready to start the presentation, double-click this icon, and the deck will launch instantly in presentation mode, without needing to open the PowerPoint application.

Create an animated chart

You can format any kind of chart so each segment animates individually. This can help you call attention to specific parts of the chart as you discuss it. Add a chart in the usual way, then:

1. Click the "Animations" tab in the ribbon and then click "Animation Pane."

2. In the ribbon, click "Add Animation."

3. Choose the kind of animation you want to apply to the chart.

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4. Right-click the effect in the Animation Pane and then, in the menu, choose "Effect Options."

5. In the Properties box, choose the "Chart Animation" tab and then change "Group chart" to "By Category" and click "OK."

How to give better PowerPoint presentations and improve your slides to keep an audience engaged
You can make each part of a chart or graph animate individually.Dave Johnson/Insider

Align your graphics

PowerPoint lets you add objects - shapes, lines, arrows, text boxes, and other elements - to the screen, but getting them aligned can be tricky. You might appreciate knowing you can perfectly align any elements on the screen with just a couple of clicks.

1. Press and hold the Shift key.

2. While continuing to hold Shift, click each item on the screen that you want to align. If you click an element by accident, click it again to de-select it. Release the Shift key when they're all selected.

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3. Click the "Home" tab in the ribbon.

4. In the ribbon, click "Arrange" and then, in the "Position Objects" section, choose an alignment to arrange or distribute the objects neatly on the screen.

How to give better PowerPoint presentations and improve your slides to keep an audience engaged
The "Arrange" menu lets you easily align and format items on the screen so they line up perfectly.Dave Johnson/Insider

Embed your fonts for portability

If you're using special fonts in your presentation and you try to open the deck on a computer that doesn't have those fonts installed, PowerPoint will substitute a local font, sometimes with disastrous results. You can avoid that problem by embedding the font in the deck, making the presentation fully portable (and possible for other people to share and edit the deck as well).

1. Click the "File" tab in the ribbon and then choose "Options."

2. In the PowerPoint Options dialog box, choose "Save" in the navigation pane on the left.

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3. In the section called "Preserve fidelity when sharing this presentation," click "Embed fonts in the file" and then select "Embed all characters."

Blank the screen to keep all eyes on you

It seems inevitable: For whatever reason, you find yourself needing to discuss a topic that's not directly related to the slide on the screen. That's when the deck can become a distraction, with your audience's eyes focused on a pie chart when you're answering an unrelated question. PowerPoint has an easy solution: Press the B key to blank the screen - it'll turn black until you press B again or move to the next slide. If you prefer, press W to turn the screen white.

Easily jump between sections of your deck

Not every presentation is linear, and you might prefer to jump back and forth from sections of your deck to a common "table of contents," so you can tackle the presentation in any order. This can be handy, for example, if you're using a deck for training or education. PowerPoint's Zoom feature is ideal for this.

1. Create a presentation and be sure to organize it into sections, ideally with title slides dividing each part of the deck.

2. Click the "Insert" tab in the ribbon.

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3. Click "Zoom" and then click "Summary Zoom."

4. In the "Insert Summary Zoom" window, select the title slide or start of each section and then click "Insert."

How to give better PowerPoint presentations and improve your slides to keep an audience engaged
Use the Zoom tool to jump back and forth between the presentation and a table of contents slide.Dave Johnson/Insider

PowerPoint will add a summary page to your deck. Now you can start your presentation here and click a section to go there. When that section is complete, PowerPoint will return you to the summary page.

Preserve the presentation as a PDF

If you want to share your presentation with your audience, a PDF file is an easy way to preserve the formatting, make it easily printable, and prevent anyone from modifying your content. Just click the "File" tab in the ribbon, choose "Save As," and then select "PDF" as the "Save as" type. You can now share this PDF file quickly and easily.

Zoom in for a closer look

During a presentation, you might realize that the audience can't clearly see a detail you want to focus on. That's ok - PowerPoint lets you zoom in with a couple clicks.

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First, make sure your presentation is set to Slide Show view. To zoom in, click on the magnifying glass in the lower-left corner of the presenter view. You'll see a zoom box appear - position it where you want to zoom, and click. Now the presentation will be zoomed in on the part of the screen you want to focus on. You can even click and drag to move around the screen while zoomed in.

When you're done and want to zoom back out, either press the Escape key or the magnifying glass icon again.

Add a musical soundtrack

You can easily add a musical score that plays in the background across all your slides. This is especially handy for "kiosk" presentations that run autonomously.

1. Go to the slide where you want the music to begin and then click the "Insert" tab in the ribbon.

2. Click "Audio" and then click "Audio on my PC…"

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3. Choose the track you want to play.

4. In the ribbon, click "Play in Background."

How to give better PowerPoint presentations and improve your slides to keep an audience engaged
Select "Play in Background" to ensure the music doesn't stop when the slides are advanced.Dave Johnson/Insider

Now, when you reach this slide, the music will start to play automatically and it will continue playing across slides until the track is over, then loop and play again.

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