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Best Practices for Best Practices

There are a lot of PowerPoint experts and expert sites out there. PowerPoint has been around for awhile now and users have grown into experts, power users, gurus, and so on. They are valuable resources when moving through the learning curve: it's a rich environment out there for learning to use PowerPoint effectively.

However, there is also misleading information about layout and usage best practices. We've noticed that many PowerPoint professionals are providing one-size-fits-all best practices for how many words should be on a slide, font sizes, etc. One size doesn't fit all, and you need to learn how to apply the correct best practices to the presentations you develop.

You need to have a solid understanding of the type of presentation you are producing (selling, teaching, introducing new concepts, influencing, persuading, obtaining a commitment, investment, status updates, etc.); who your audience is and what they are looking to gain from your presentation; the depth of detail that is needed (no more and no less); how large your audience will be; will there be handouts; and so on.

Once you have answered all of the presentation-defining questions, you'll be better equipped to determine the best practices that will serve you and your audience best. For example,

  1. A financial institution that presents earnings reports to small groups of its investors needs to provide a very specific amount of performance information, which will require a smaller font and greater detail – but this works.
  2. A company introducing new procedures to its employees may wish to present the new expected behaviors to employees and provide handouts as a reference and to support the presentation messages. The handouts can contain more content than the presentation, so a larger font and scaled back content in the presentation is a good approach.
  3. A speaker introducing an overview of a broad topic or a set of concepts can use the "minimal words/impactful images" approach to presenting. This approach is a much more effective way to engage an audience on an emotional or thought-provoking level and encourages retention by hooking the message to a well-chosen image.

Now imagine the financial institution (no. 1) using the no. 3 approach to bring its investors up to date on the status of their portfolios. Without a sufficient amount of supportive detail, the presentation may very well create distrust and frustration on the part of the investors. This is counterproductive for the financial institution, since they have a trust-based relationship with their investors.

You need to determine your own best practices in order to maximize the impact of your presentations.

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