The Perfect Presentation


Love it or hate it, presentations are an integral part of most meetings and many learning environments and we’ll be using PowerPoint and Keynote for a decent number of years to come. So, let’s embrace slides and have confidence that when we use them they are benefiting our audience and assisting with learning. Read on to find out how. (p.s - these tips apply to any presentation software, including the many online options).


Here’s How Slides Can Actually Help

As humans, our sense of sight can use up to 50% of our brain’s processing. In addition, when we see a visual AND hear correlating information, we can absorb and learn 91% more (over listening alone, or reading text and listening, etc.). This means that when we present relevant, visual content on our slides, we can truly engage our audience. The exciting implication is that if we do this right, our audiences can walk away feeling much more excited about what they’ve just learned and remember much more.


Images & Text

Size of content on a slide is important for more than just being able to see what’s there. Studies have shown that larger images attract and keep people’s attention for longer. Your audience will also be drawn to large text, however there must also be some differentially in your elements. That means that if everything is large-and-in-charge, one element won’t stick out more than the rest, so use your space wisely. This is why titles are normally bigger than the rest of the text, because in theory, the title is the most important synopsis of what you are talking about on that slide.


People also automatically group elements into units to process information and store it in their memory. Grouping elements in a meaningful way can help your audience learn better. You can use the rule of thirds to create a visually stimulating layout and help with learning. The rule of thirds states “that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.” If you would like more information, read this article on the using the rule of thirds in presentations. (


Similarly, keeping your slides simple and consistent throughout your presentation helps your audience to focus on the message and not get distracted by design elements. Any changes in appearance that you choose to include, should also signify a change in meaning, topic, etc.        

Pro Tip: Aspect Ratio

Before you get started ask what the aspect ratio being displayed will be. Whether your presentation is in 4x3 (older, more square) or 16x9 (closer to widescreen), if it’s being displayed in a different ratio, your content will be displayed in a smaller size and pixels will be lost/wont look as good. If you need some help setting this up or changing a current presentation, I recommend googling how-to videos or search on youtube. There are a ton of easy to follow tutorials out there with the most up-to-date information.    


Know Your Audience

“One of the more fascinating discoveries is that eye movements vary between the different generations when looking at a screen. Baby Boomers tend to read from top to bottom, left to right. The eyes of younger generations bounce around – they’ll look at images first, then call-out boxes, and finally body text.”



I feel like I shouldn’t have to say it, but I’ve been in enough situations where people still do this that I’m going to say it - do NOT read the text off of your slide. Your audience is smart; they can read the text on the slide. Instead, tell a story through images and not text (the next section explains how this can help with learning). Even if you do have some text on the slide, it should highlight and contribute to what you are saying, not be exactly what you are saying.


Pro Tip: If you want to get creative with images and slide layouts, go onto Pinterest and search “PowerPoint”. There are some beautiful layouts and color schemes that you can incorporate into your next presentation. 



Use animation sparingly and with intention. Animations will draw the viewer’s attention to whatever is moving, so this can be a powerful tool, but be aware that anything flashy or over-the-top tends to be more of a distraction. I’m personally a big fan of less intense ‘fade’ and ‘appear’ animations.



Probably the most common use of sound in presentations is in a video. This makes the most sense and can, for obvious reasons, be very compelling and memorable. If you’re comfortable inserting videos in your presentation, I recommend using them when appropriate (if you’re not, google some video tutorials; again there are some great how-tos online that will help immensely). A word to the wise when presenting anywhere is to stay away from videos hosted online (ie. youtube) and going to them during the presentation as internet issues always seem to pop up in the most inopportune moments. Instead, link or embed the video directly into your presentation and test on the computer you will be presenting from ahead of time.


I’ve also seen/heard background music work really well in a few presentations. These presenters had taken the time to time what they had to say with the music, felt comfortable speaking with it in the background and didn’t let it get kitschy. You are the best judge to say if this could work for you in your presentations. It can support both memory and get your audience on the same emotional level that you are trying to create, making it another very powerful tool that can be used, but only if it is done right. Stay away from ‘irrelevant sound’ (ie. when changing a slide or with an animation that which can be distracting.

Big breath - I know that is a lot to process. To get started, try implementing larger images and less text when creating your next presentation. Then use the rule of thirds on your next one. The idea is to help our audiences absorb and retain information better, so anything we do to facilitate that is a win!