PowerPoint: Grab Your Audience

by Paul McLaughlin

How do you create presentations that will really grab your audience? In this age of technology, part of the answer is to use presentation software.

You have probably seen people using these programs. On their computers, they develop slides using computer-generated backgrounds, text, drawings, cartoons, and other graphics. Then, depending on the size of the audience and the room, they display their slides on a computer monitor or a television screen, or project them onto a screen using a panel that sits on an overhead projector or a projector that plugs right into their computer.

The most widely known presentation program is Microsoft PowerPoint, part of the Microsoft Office Suite. Others include Corel Presentations, Action, and Lotus Freelance.

These programs are easy to learn and use. They have numerous bells and whistles that allow you to build slide shows that dazzle audiences—at least, they used to, before presentation software became so common.

A good presentation uses the slides to emphasize highlights; a bad one uses them to make the presentation—and often loses the audience in the process.

Here are some tips on how to design a presentation slide show, along with a couple of slides that illustrate how these points could be made into slides.

Big letters

The bigger the letters on your slide, the easier it will be to read. You are better off with two or three slides with large letters than with one slide with tiny letters that no one can read from the back of the room.

Simple fonts

Seriphs are the little flourishes that designers use to make their fonts look fancy. A seriphed font like Times New Roman is easy to read on a page, but hard to read on a slide. In a slide, use a seriphless font like Arial or Helvetica.

Few words

Try to reduce your point to as few words as possible—one or two words is best. Don’t use sentences. Use your verbal presentation to flesh out the details and subtleties.

Clear headings

Your headings should structure your presentation.

Clear points

It often takes more work to get a point reduced to a few clear words than to expound on it for several paragraphs, but it’s worth it.

No clutter

Empty space is good. The prepackaged backgrounds that come with presentation programs must be used with caution because of the way they clutter up the screen.

Bold colors

Big splashes of bold color work better than pastels and subtleties. Remember, you can lose a lot of the intensity of your colors when they are projected onto a screen, especially if you have to project through a palette.

Thematic use of color

Tie the parts of your presentation together by establishing a different color for each heading at the beginning of the slide show, then using the color scheme throughout the presentation to keep the audience oriented.

Graphics and cartoons

A picture can be worth a thousand words, particularly if it lightens things up.


The newer versions of the presentation programs allow you to add movement to the objects on the screen—fade in, fade out, move up or down, flash, disappear, etc. Movement can be very powerful, but it can result in clutter if you’re not very careful in how you use it.


This too can be a double-edged sword; use it well, and it is powerful, but use it poorly and it can be disastrous.

When you are new to presentation software, you can easily get carried away with it. This is a good thing; playing with your program is the best way for you to learn what it can do.

But when it’s time to get serious, remember, from the perspective of the audience, simple is best. n

Paul McLaughlin is the Practice Management Advisor for the Law Society of Alberta, Canada. He is the author of Document Assembly for the Legal Assistant: A Self-Instruction Guide Using WordPerfect for Windows (and nothing else). He can be reached at dogonit @compuserve.com or through http://ourworld.compuserve.com/

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