Creating Effective PowerPoint Presentations
Points to Ponder in Producing PowerPoint Presentation

Michael A. Russell
AC 2596, (503) 491-7348

Walter M. Shriner
AC 2591, (503) 491-7362


In this paper we attempt to provide some guidance in making effective PowerPoint presentations for teaching. In presenting our thoughts, we have assumed that the reader has mastered the basic principles of PowerPoint and wishes to refine their slides to better address the diversity of learning styles and disabilities present within the student population. We are emphatic in our wish not to imply that these techniques should be utilized by all PowerPoint presenters; rather, we wish to provide points to "ponder and discuss" to attain an optimum presentation format.

We start with a simple history of the PowerPoint computer program, then follow with a discussion on the availability and applicability of PowerPoint on the MHCC campus for lectures. We then discuss methods to keep the focus of the audience on the presentation and course material. Hints on using color, text, multimedia, and other PowerPoint elements are presented with a summary of the ideal PowerPoint characteristics given at the conclusion.

Note: this document may be viewed on the World Wide Web:



The Birth of PowerPoint

Page 2


Using PowerPoint at MHCC

Page 4


Effective PowerPoint

Page 7

  The Utilization of Color in PowerPoint Presentations  
  The Utilization of Text in PowerPoint Presentations  
  The Appropriate Utilization of Multimedia in PowerPoint Presentations  
  Other Issues for Consideration in PowerPoint Presentations  


Making Effective PowerPoint - Overview

Page 13



Page 14


Resources for More Information

Page 15

If we can answer any additional questions you might have, please contact us.


Walter M. Shriner, Ph.D. Michael A. Russell, Ph.D.
Professor of Wildlife Ecology Professor of Chemistry

I. The Birth of PowerPoint

What is PowerPoint?

PowerPoint is an integral component within the suite of programs known collectively as Microsoft Office. PowerPoint provides a complete set of resources for creating presentations. Several presentation formats are available, including lectures, kiosks, photo albums, and much more. Multimedia can be incorporated into the presentation so that Key Concepts can be explained using images, audio, video, and text. For the most part, PowerPoint files created on a Macintosh can be imported into Windows environments and vice-versa. Presentations can be exported to the World Wide Web or, in recent versions (PP 2000 and newer), presentations can be exported to stand alone as QuickTime movies.

The Genesis of PowerPoint

In the pre-PowerPoint era, lectures using anything other than chalk or movie reels generally required the use of transparencies or slides. Slides could be created using sources such as Genigraphics or Chartmasters. These big business options were available at many schools, and while they were expensive and had a slow turnaround time, the results were virtually as good as the original material. Transparencies could be created from slide notes with larger fonts (or by enlarging typewriter notes using a photocopier). While the turnaround time was sufficient for many projects, the process was quite tedious, and the reproduction quality of original data could be less than desirable.

PowerPoint's genesis stems from the frustrations inherent to slide and transparency creation. In April 1987 the Forethought Company from Sunnyvale, California published PowerPoint 1.0. PowerPoint was originally named "Presenter", and although the original goal was a Windows program, the developer changed his or her mind and created a Macintosh program instead. The original PowerPoint was exclusively for the Macintosh market, and it took sixteen months to create. Offering black and white colors only, PowerPoint offered a variety of lines and drawing tools with handout and note pages, and it could be run from a single disk (no hard disk was required!)

If PowerPoint had been kept at this level, we would probably not be using it today. The ability to display only black and white colors with no Windows compatibility would have left it forever in the annals of forgotten software. However, in August of 1987 Microsoft acquired Forethought and took over production of PowerPoint. PowerPoint version 2.0 for the Macintosh was released in May of 1988, and the Windows version of PowerPoint 2.0 was released in May of 1990. PowerPoint 2 was the first cross-platform version of PowerPoint, an important step for future marketability. New features were added, including spell checking, shading fills, bullets, and the highest Macintosh computers could also display color slides.

Other programs (including Aldus Persuasion and Lotus Freelance) dominated the presentation software field, but PowerPoint was beginning to make a stand. By the time of version 3, PowerPoint became a respected player in the presentation software category. This trend has continued to this day, and currently PowerPoint 2000 (and the nearly equivalent PowerPoint 2001 on the Macintosh) is the newest version of this program.

PowerPoint has maintained a simple yet powerful user interface that makes it easy for newcomers to setup a presentation while keeping more experienced users enthralled due to its complex repertoire of features. Like any computer program, a learning curve must be overcome to achieve initial mastery, but the curve is not steep with PowerPoint. The cross platform (i.e. both Windows and Macintosh) appeal makes user migration (from Macintosh to Windows or vice-versa) relatively painless. PowerPoint is here to stay!

The Scope of the Report

We should note that this paper is not intended to be used as a "how do I use PowerPoint" tutorial. Sources for addressing these concerns can be found in books (several wonderful books can be found online or through the MHCC Bookstore), in classes (many of which are offered each term through the Computer Department at MHCC), or through Inservice training workshops. In this paper we assume that the reader has an adequate understanding of basic PowerPoint creation and presentation tools.

What we will try to address are different techniques to hold an audience's attention while presenting your course material. These techniques will be subjective on occasion, and by no means do we wish to imply an unquestionable mastery of this subject material (only an unbridled enthusiasm for the opportunities!). We do, however, hope to provide "points to ponder" while creating your PowerPoint files, points which may help make your presentations more effective to your audience and enhance learning potentials of your students. Better PowerPoint presentations lead to the presenter's peace of mind as well: we hope that by using some of these ideas you will have less concern about your presentation quality, keeping your mind focused on the material instead of the learning capabilities of your students. And the ultimate goal should always be the student's comprehension - that magic moment of "ah ha!" which great instructors strive for always.

We hope you will agree with us that we should always be "aspiring to" and not "settling for" a product which is less than its full potential. It is with this idea in mind that we began exploring the strengths and weaknesses of PowerPoint production in order to ascertain the most effective techniques for reaching our intended audience with the message we wish to project.

II. Using PowerPoint at MHCC

Versions of PowerPoint at Mt. Hood Community College

Computer use at Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) increased dramatically during 1997 due to the influx of personal computers for individual faculty members. Prior to 1997, individuals and departments had anywhere from zero to 30 computers at their disposal. However, once each faculty member had their own computer in which to prepare documents, spreadsheets, email, etc., the dynamics of computer use shifted. Microsoft Office 97 became the pre-eminent software suite available to faculty, staff and administrators on the MHCC campus. Included within Microsoft Office 97 was PowerPoint 97, a powerful yet relatively friendly program that is available to almost everyone in the MHCC community.

Recent upgrades have replaced most of the Microsoft Office 97 suites with the updated Microsoft Office 2000. Included within Office 2000 is PowerPoint 2000, a newly updated version of PowerPoint 97 with a few new surprises. Key to this paper is the ability of PowerPoint 97 to read PowerPoint 2000 files and vice-versa - a cross version compatibility not observed in many programs. To ensure complete functionality, PowerPoint 2000 users should use PowerPoint 2000; but in a pinch, the older PowerPoint 97 should be able to read and display PowerPoint 2000 files with little difficulty.

Recent Macintosh versions of PowerPoint include PowerPoint 98 and PowerPoint 2001. PowerPoint 98 is the Macintosh version of PowerPoint 97 while PowerPoint 2001 is the Macintosh version of PowerPoint 2000. The numbers relate to the release year and do not imply any additional features from their Windows counterparts. Cross-platform accessibility has been maintained since PowerPoint 2, so files created in PowerPoint 2001 are compatible (and readable) by PowerPoint 2000.

Using PowerPoint at Mt. Hood Community College - Hardware

Having the PowerPoint software allows for the creation of presentations. But if you wish to deliver your presentation on more than a computer monitor, a display system must also be available in the lecture room.

Approximately thirteen classrooms in the main campus have built-in PowerPoint viewing projectors. Most of the viewers have dedicated Windows-compatible computers available for use with PowerPoint.

In addition, there are approximately fifteen mobile "presentation carts" available in the MHCC main campus community that can be used with PowerPoint. To use these projectors, the presenter must bring a computer to the presentation room (for example, a portable notebook computer) and then connect the PC to the viewer to enact the PowerPoint lecture. Connecting the PC to the projector is usually quite uneventful, but a "dry run" should be arranged before the day of the presentation! Reservations for using these carts can be arranged with Craig Marks for use on the main MHCC campus.

For small audiences, devices such as TView Gold (Focus Enhancements, can be purchased to connect PCs directly into VCRs or TVs. These systems work well with smaller class sizes, but resolution is often sacrificed for portability (NTSC standards do not require the high resolution of most computer monitors.) This option allows you to present your material almost anywhere, including hotel rooms, residential houses, small businesses, etc.

One additional topic should be addressed when thinking about PowerPoint presentations. If you have considerable amounts of multimedia in your presentation, or if the number of slides per presentation is extensive, transferring the PowerPoint file can be problematic. Media for transferring your PowerPoint file will be limited by the host computers you work with, and typical transfer media options include floppy disks, Zip (and Imation) disks, CD-ROM, DVD, tape storage media, and many others. But remember the limitations of your system: if you wish to transfer a PowerPoint file from your home computer to your school computer , and your home computer has a floppy disk drive while the school computer has a floppy drive and Zip disk, you will still be limited to using a floppy disk to transfer between the two computers.

If the file length of the PowerPoint presentation exceeds that of your medium, you may be have difficulties. On Macintosh systems this is especially troublesome due to the extra file length associated with the Macintosh OS relative to Windows machines. It is quite easy to exceed the limitations of the floppy disk size when creating PowerPoint files in Macintosh systems. Fortunately, users with this predicament can resort to compression schemes (PKZip, Stuffit, etc.) when presentation file length exceeds your media.

Mt. Hood Community College's Ethernet network provides an alternative to "external" storage media (e.g., floppy disks, etc.). Each individual receives a private "server storage" space in the MHCC network (often referred to as the "M" drive) as well as several "quasi-private" storage spaces (e.g., the "G" drive.) PowerPoint files may be transferred to the lecture hall computer using the MHCC network assuming both computers are a part of the network.

If one of the computers is not part of the MHCC network but is connected to the Internet, it is still possible to email the file to yourself using the MHCC Microsoft Outlook email system. Large presentation files will be slow to download at speeds less than T1 Ethernet, but it can be done. A better mass storage and transfer option is File Transfer Protocol (FTP) where a file is transferred to and from a computer on the network. This option may or may not be available to PowerPoint users depending on their situation, but most Web-savvy individuals should be able to use FTP to transfer files as well as use FTP for uploading/downloading files to the Internet.

Using PowerPoint at Mt. Hood Community College - Why Should I?

According to our informal polling, between twenty-five and fifty percent of instructors at Mt. Hood Community College currently utilize PowerPoint lectures for at least some of their classes. Some simply use PowerPoint to create transparency, while others present their lectures exclusively with this program. Considering that three years ago the availability of PowerPoint lecturing capacities was approximately zero, the PowerPoint phenomenon has grown considerably in a very short amount of time.

Reasons for using PowerPoint vary depending on the instructor. The ease of creating and maintaining lecture files is often mentioned. PowerPoint lecture files keep instructors on track, minimizing the flow of unnecessary information to the students. The desire to use multimedia in lectures plays a prominent role in instructors accepting PowerPoint into their lectures. Many instructors also appreciate the pre-made PowerPoint files available for download from the major textbook publishers. While the "canned" files may be lacking in design flair, they can provide a starting point for instructors interested in PowerPoint.

Students tend to appreciate instructors who utilize PowerPoint. Reasons students appreciate PowerPoint lectures include: "more readable", "can focus more on the material and not the note-taking", "more interactive", "more exciting to watch", and other reasons. PowerPoint lectures can be given "too quickly", students are quick to point out, but to allay their concerns printed PowerPoint notes can be provided which minimize this stress. These notes can be provided online (i.e. on a web site), on reserve in the library, or as a packet for sale at the bookstore when buying textbooks. Most students use the PowerPoint notes religiously, and it appears to definitely be worth the time to create them.

Other students appreciate the opportunity to download the entire PowerPoint file from a website or through email in order to view the material after the lecture has concluded. This provides a powerful reinforcement technique for enhancing student learning.

One must be cautious with this technique, however: one author's PowerPoint files use a CD-ROM set for multimedia, and due to the native software architecture differences between a Macintosh and a PC computer, Windows users are unable to view the files made on the author's Macintosh. Abbreviated versions can be constructed which do not rely on the CD-ROM and distributed on the Internet for everyone in all computer platforms to utilize.

PowerPoint will never be for everyone. Some will fear its association with Microsoft, some will feel confined to the limitations of the PowerPoint environment, and some will always prefer the "chalk talk and transparency" methodology. This is fine--the authors do not wish to condemn the non-PowerPoint crowd in any way. However, if you are interested in PowerPoint and wish to have a more effective PowerPoint presentation, please continue reading this report.

III. Effective PowerPoint

All of us recall certain lectures where the speaker droned on monotonously for what seemed like forever. The topic may or may not have inherently appealed to us, but the speaker's lack of charisma and style while presenting the material all but ensured a disfavorable mental attitude towards the subject in the future.

Some of us can relate to the experience of suffering through a lecture with a disability. Perhaps it was a broken leg that temporarily imparted discomfort to you during the talk; perhaps it was a permanent disability such as color blindness or a learning style disorder. Still others simply have trouble reading the text on a chalkboard or deciphering the marks on a poor transparency.

Technologically savvy educators face the formidable task of creating PowerPoint lectures that should be accessible to as large an audience as possible. More importantly, the course material should be projected directly into the attention span of the audience.

Human nature being what it is, attention spans can range from seconds to hours depending on the individual. Some blame the MTV or sound bite phenomenon for this behavior. Regardless of the source, the knowledgeable instructor needs to create a PowerPoint presentation free of extraneous distraction as much as possible. There is nothing worse than addressing an audience distracted to the point of oblivion. Try teaching the Second Law of Thermodynamics on a day where temperatures exceed 80 ° F! (ha ha!) Anyway…

Of special concern should be the students who have a "hidden" disability that makes certain attention-gathering techniques worthless. A prime example of this is the student who is color blind or red-green colorblind. Certain colors (or all colors) will remain invisible or at least supremely altered from their intended effect. For these students one must be extremely careful that the PowerPoint design allows the lecture material to be received all (or at least many!).

The following topics attempt to address some of the pitfalls often associated with ineffective PowerPoint presentations. Suggestions for correcting these practices are included in the respective sections.

The Utilization of Color in PowerPoint Presentations

The original version of PowerPoint could not display colors outside of black and white, a fact that seems incredulous to modern PowerPoint users. Color adds spice to an otherwise droll section of text. Color can highlight key phrases, drawing the audience's attention to important concepts. Color helps ensure a greater likelihood that the information will be assimilated. In short, we believe that color should not be overlooked in creating PowerPoint presentations.

But color has some limitations. We have all seen clothes on people that enhance or detract from their beauty. these subjective observations come from the color combinations in the clothes they wear. Color can also exhibit "moods" for the presenter: green is typically more relaxing, red and yellow are urgent colors, blue can be sad or relaxing depending on the hue, black can be a power color, etc. One need not be a Feng Shui expert to appreciate the effect of color on people, but it is helpful to know how a specific color will affect people generally. Knowing how to utilize colors for your presentations is critical to PowerPoint presentations.

Another factor to consider while building presentations stems from a genetic inability to perceive color or portions of color: color blindness. There are a variety of color blindness afflictions circulating within the human genome, and many of them can be found in the Mt. Hood Community College populace. For more information on the types of color blindness, see: ("Colour Vision Defects", author not specified, accessed 5/15/01).

The color wheel (also known as the chromatic wheel) is a useful tool in graphic design that should be applied when preparing PowerPoint presentations. In a color wheel, colors are aligned in a circle based on the order of visible colors in the electromagnetic spectrum (red to blue, basically.) Certain primary colors (red, blue and yellow) can be combined to form a plethora of other colors, some of which look well together (complimentary colors) and others that look horrid! The most horrid combinations arise when two colors are placed in the same proximity which are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.

For PowerPoint design, try to avoid color combinations with colors on opposite sides of the color wheel. Red text on a green background might be OK for Christmas decorations, but otherwise avoid this combination at all costs. Similar color clashes occur with blue text and a yellow background.

The color wheel is only one aspect that should be considered when creating colorful PowerPoint presentations. The hue and saturation of colors can also play a role in determining color choice. In short, it is always best to experiment before deciding on the "best" choice for a particular presentation.

Generally, dark text on a light background looks more pronounced (and is easier to read) than light text on a dark background. The combination that is easiest on the eyes to read is a black text color on a white background. Again, experiment to find the method scheme that works best for you and your presentation.

Finally, it is also wise to preview your presentation in the scheduled room. Like all projected presentations, the quality of the image in a PowerPoint slide may be affected by the amount of sunlight streaming into the room, the type of overhead lights, and your ability to control these lights.

The Utilization of Text in PowerPoint Presentations

Typed text will probably deliver the majority of the content to the audience in most presentations. From Moses to Malcolm X, the written word can shake a generation and preserve great ideas for time immortal. But while Moses was limited to stone tablets and Malcolm X (and occasionally with Alex Haley) used books and pamphlets, PowerPoint allows for a much wider range of delivery options.

Besides the color of the text (which was discussed above), text can be delivered all at once, or in small packets, even by individual letters if so required. The transitions can be as fancy or basic as desired, and especially important thoughts can be introduced with a sound clip or sound bite. All of these design possibilities must be considered when making effective PowerPoint presentations.

But the most important text characteristic for effective PowerPoint presentations must be stated first: correct spelling and grammar! There is nothing more distracting than poor spelling and grammar in PowerPoint; even slang text should be kept to a minimum during most PowerPoint presentations. The message of the presentation will be lost when misspelled words and sloppy grammar ruin the introduction. The dilemma is easy to fix: simply perform a spell check on your presentation prior to delivering the material to the class. This will fix most problems and save frustrations later. For important presentations, consider getting a "test audience" to watch your performance before the lecture. Other people will sometimes see clearly what you missed easily.

Spelling and grammar checks prevent the audience's attention from being distracted from the primary message of the presentation. Likewise, it is important to use a similar font throughout the entire presentation. Changing fonts in each slide of a presentation is incredibly distracting; the audience wonders what font will be used on the next slide instead of thinking about the current material. It is highly recommended that a standard font be used consistently through the presentation. Standard fonts can be found on most Windows and Macintosh PCs, and they include Times New Roman, Geneva, Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana, etc. Exceptions to this rule occur when special font characters are required. As an example, the Symbol font proves useful to scientists due to the presence of Greek characters and special mathematics symbols.

The size of the displayed font must be considered when presenting your lecture to the audience. As presentation projectors increase in light output intensity, the problem of font size has diminished, but sizes still must be accommodated for when presenting to very small or large audiences. We use font sizes of 28 point or larger with one of the abovementioned "standard" fonts almost exclusively. Use smaller font sizes only with caution. It should also be mentioned that different fonts have different size characteristics, making font size allocations variable depending on the nature of the font. Again, testing your slides at the lecture site prior to the presentation should be a critical priority when making effective PowerPoint.

Another feature to consider when using fonts is that not all computers have the same fonts. If the PC you create the presentations upon is different from the PC you'll be using during the presentation, make sure the fonts on both PCs are approximately the same. PowerPoint tries to find a similar font if the original font choice is absent, and the results can be ok to disastrous depending on the font selected. Using standard fonts works well even when presentations travel cross-platform (Macintosh to Windows, etc.), but check ahead of time to be absolutely sure (for example, the "bullets" often change shape!).

Text expressions can be introduced to the audience using a variety of transitions. Some of the transitions are fast and attention gathering; other transitions are introduced too slowly or in a method to instill entertainment but not increased learning. Transitions which vary in form from page to page (or even on the same page!) can be distracting. The transition must be planned for in advance when producing effective PowerPoint presentations. A transition should be short, snazzy and consistent throughout a presentation to be of real use to the presenter. Wild, circular transitions as well as transitions that "peek" before appearing (or disappearing altogether) should be avoided.

Some presenters use a "dimmed text" approach with transitions. In a group of text introduced one piece at a time, the previously introduced text is dimmed once the new text arrives on the screen. This practice is fine, a method of personal taste more than "effective versus ineffective", but ensure that the dimmed text is darker than the newly introduced text. This allows for a clear delineation between newly introduced lines and previous text groupings.

When a topic is complicated and material runs for many slides, it might be tempting to use expressions like "see previous slide" for a critical piece of information. This is highly discouraged: students are learning the material as you present it, and they may not be ready to recall the previous slide's information. Most key points can be condensed, copied and pasted on the new slide, keeping the student from having to remember all of the fine details. Alternatively, a transparency can be created with the key points to be displayed simultaneously along with the relevant information in PowerPoint.

It probably goes with saying that slang words should be treated carefully and not used unless absolutely necessary. A "Community College" encompasses individuals from a variety of social and economic backgrounds and native languages, and slang in use with one portion of the community may not be appropriate or understood in another part of the general group. Explain and define any slang terms should they become a part of your PowerPoint lecture.

PowerPoint has the option of using "Word Art" in slides. Word Art is nothing more than words that are colored and altered along a non-linear axis. Word Art can be a fun toy to play with, and Word Art works well for informal posters and awards. However, in PowerPoint presentations Word Art is not recommended: it distracts the audience from the main topic and focuses instead on the "fun" graphic representation of the word or phrase. Use Word Art cautiously or not at all to keep your audience's attention intact.

Finally, the quantity of text per slide must be considered. Slides with too much text become difficult for the audience to assimilate; remember that they do not know the material as well as you. The quantity of words per slide varies with the font, the font size, the material being covered, the types of transitions, and other factors. Ideally you can test your pages on an audience before subjecting your classes to the slides. Fewer words per slide means easier comprehension of the material by your audience. Spend the extra time and separate long text strings into multiple slides when creating effective PowerPoint presentations.

The Appropriate Utilization of Multimedia in PowerPoint Presentations

Although the majority of the lecture content in PowerPoint is often delivered through text, the occasional seasoning of the presentation with multimedia can move any lecture from "ok" to "exciting". Better yet, the addition of multimedia helps the audience to remember the material better than when text is used alone. Multimedia can be appreciated by a variety of learning styles, allowing for a greater amount of audience absorption.

Traditionally the exclusive domain of expensive movie production companies, the so-called "DV Revolution" in personal computers has arrived to enhance the scope of PowerPoint presentations dramatically. Movies, which used to take months to complete and thousands of dollars to produce can now be completed in less than an hour with a price tag that the average consumer can appreciate. Better yet, the multimedia can be created in the comfort of your own home using the appropriate PC and software. If you do not like the multimedia available to you, make your own! The process is amazingly easy, the results surprisingly good, and you will probably find it's quite enjoyable to create.

Multimedia can be delivered in PowerPoint using different software architectures, but the most common form is QuickTime. QuickTime from Apple Computer is a cross-platform delivery system capable of playing video, audio, MP3, Macromedia Flash files, and a host of other formats. It has been integrated seamlessly into PowerPoint 97 and higher versions, so implementing the multimedia within your presentation is straightforward and easy.

The birth of the DV Revolution has brought a new problem to consider when making effective PowerPoint presentations. The ease of contemporary movie making has allowed some presenters to present too much multimedia at one time on the same slide. Just as an inordinate quantity of text can be overwhelming to read, too much multimedia on a single page can be overwhelming to the audience. Remember, you want the audience's attention to stay focused on the content, and if a variety of moving bullets, movies and/or sounds play simultaneously (or at least so quick as to be undifferentiable), the primary ideas of the lecture will be lost. People will pay attention to the multimedia and ignore the content completely. This is similar to the effect of having too many fonts on the same page: the attention of the audience floats away from the subject material to an unwanted distraction, lowering the outcome of the lecture.

Try to limit each PowerPoint page to one multimedia movie file. More than one movie per page can be confusing and difficult to follow. Some explanatory text located above or below the multimedia can announce the purpose of the movie, to remind the audience why they are watching the clip at this point in the lecture.

Multimedia is not limited to movie clips exclusively. Sound clips and sound bites can be inserted at appropriate junctures within the lecture in order to gather the audience's attention back to the subject material. Sound bites should be used sparingly, for an overabundance of sound bites can become tedious, somewhat predictable and often boring.

Music tracks (whole or partial) can occasionally be used to emphasize certain themes within the presentation. One author has used music to focus and calm students prior to lecturing, a practice that deserves additional study and attention. The MP3 music format works well here, but CD audio tracks and even MIDI tracks can be played from within PowerPoint just as easily.

To be avoided at all costs should be any sound that plays at every transition of text. Hearing a drum roll, clapping, or some other inane sound grates the nerves and sends the listener's attention into avoidance.

A variety of still image formats can be displayed in PowerPoint including GIF, JPG, PNG, BMP, PCT, and others. Still images can bring a learning concept to awareness within the audience's minds, allowing an appreciation for the subject matter using symbols and photographs that text could explain only with great difficulty. Remember that pictures should be kept to a minimum per page while using PowerPoint. Too many pictures allow for a loss of audience attention; after all, this is a presentation and not a family portrait album! The authors tend to avoid using animated transitions with pictures, preferring a static glimpse of the slides to a large moving image.

Still images can be inserted into the background for use in PowerPoint, but this practice should be discouraged. A large, graphic picture in the background of the screen will steal the attention of the audience from the content material provided in the foreground. The authors encourage effective PowerPoint presenters to use simple backgrounds: a solid color, or perhaps a blend of two colors. Ideally the background color should be lighter while the text should be darker; this appears to be the easiest combination of text and background for the audience to assimilate (and read) during lectures (and shows up better when printing the slides in black and white).

Finally, as an aside, it can be possible to insert audio clips of yourself talking and/or lecturing through PowerPoint, assuming your computer has sound capabilities. Like the occasional sound bite, this can be an entertaining method to gather audience attention back to the lecture when done correctly. Not all versions of PowerPoint allow this feature, but it can add some additional spice to your topic and bring the focus back to the lecture.

Other Issues for Consideration in PowerPoint Presentations

Effective PowerPoint presentations attempt to keep the audience attention focused on the subject material and away from distractions. However, the attention will lag if insufficient assimilation time is provided to the audience. The speed that the presenter uses in the lecture should not be too quick, especially if the topic is difficult to comprehend. While using nothing but chalk and a chalkboard, the presenter is forced to slow down as words and diagrams are created on the blackboard. PowerPoint has the words and pictures ready for you, and "speed presenting" can be a problem, especially if the topic is exciting to the lecturer. Try to go a bit slower instead of a bit faster whenever possible. The audience learning retention rate will be greater in these cases when the pace of the presentation is slowed down.

If speed problems persist, try using PowerPoint's elaborate timing mechanism. Used in stand-alone kiosks, PowerPoint can time presentations down to the second or less to capture the passerby's wandering eye. The timing mechanism can be used to slow down the quick presentation (and the quick presenter!) if desired.

Another issue to consider when creating PowerPoint slides is clutter. When a page of PowerPoint is filled with text, drawings, pictures, multimedia, sound bites, and more, the purpose of the slide is often lost to the audience. Remember the expression KISS: "Keep It Simple Silly!" Simplicity leads to great things, and this principle is directly applicable to the creation of PowerPoint slides.

Lecture notes for students are essential when the majority of the class time will be spent using PowerPoint. Styles of notes differ depending on the tastes of the instructors, but generally having three PowerPoint slides per page of text works well. As mentioned earlier, the notes can be purchased through the bookstore, copied from master copies in the library or outside of the instructor's door, or downloaded and copied from an internet website. The individual delivery preference will depend on the instructor, but the students will appreciate the notes.

If you wish to increase student participation and discussion in your lectures, consider leaving a few key points blank (or with an underlined space) within your presentation. These points can be filled in by students as the lecture progresses, making the learning interactive and thought provoking. Learning can be enhanced when writing and visualizing are completed simultaneously, and incorporating the "fill in" blanks within your PowerPoint slides can be rewarding to the students in the long run.

Reading PowerPoint slides to your audience can only be described as utterly boring. Expand on the thoughts presented in the lecture slides; embellish the facts with personal stories and observations relevant to the discussion. The lively manner of the instructor will help keep the attention focused on the relevant material. Making connections to material already presented and material yet to come provides a classroom continuity important in any effective presentation. And, as our students have told us, know what slide is next! Few things are more distracting that waiting for the instructor to read the slide so that he knows where he is going. Printing your slides in the handy "6x6" handout mode is one way to avoid this pitfall.

Certain reviewers discourage the use of a laser pointer while presenting PowerPoint lectures. The reason is that the audience loathes a shaky laser target light. If you move the laser pointer excessively, the audience will find it difficult to focus on the important content within the slide - the moving laser pointer is so much more exciting! This complaint is true for all uses of laser pointers, however. So we say, "laser pointer users don't despair", simply show good pointer skill-- just use the pointer sparingly, and if important concepts are to be highlighted with the pointer, do so with a steady, unwavering hand. One of the authors uses a laser pointer in virtually every lecture, and students have responded positively to its utilization within the confines of the lecture arena.

IV. Making Effective PowerPoint - Overview

The previous sections outlined in detail the various attributes we find essential for making effective PowerPoint presentations. An overview of the relevant points follows:


Try to gather the audience's attention on the subject material



Use a dark-colored text with a large size (28 point or larger) and a common font type (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.) Avoid slang, check spelling, and keep the total number of words per slide to a minimum



Simple, light-colored backgrounds work best with dark text. Avoid pictures in the background if possible.



Use a consistent transition throughout the entire lecture. Transitions should be short and attention grabbing. Do not use sound bites with transitions if possible. Old text may be dimmed when new text arrives.



Use color sparingly and for impact. Avoid colors on opposite positions of the color wheel. Remember that a portion of your audience may be colorblind.



Pictures, movie clips, audio clips, etc. can enhance PowerPoint lectures, but use only one or two multimedia clips per page. Text can be used to introduce the multimedia to the audience. Never be satisfied with boring or inappropriate media - make your own if so inclined.

On a final note, we wish to remind the reader that these guidelines are points to ponder and not mandates. Art can open established doctrines and rearrange them when the circumstances dictate. Effective PowerPoint presentations exist as a new type of art form heralded by interested presenters, and certain rules can and should be broken if the situation warrants a change. Use these guidelines as a starting point for discussion amongst your colleagues; do not take them as law! Above all, enjoy using the wonderful capabilities of PowerPoint, and let us know what you find essential through your own presentations!

"Oh, the Places You'll Go!" -- Dr. Seuss

V. Acknowledgements


The authors would like to thank several people for their assistance on this project:

  • Dr. Andrew Jackman - our supportive Dean who continues to inspire us to bigger and better things
  • Craig Marks - A/V Demigod who answered several of our questions regarding PowerPoint accessibility on the MHCC campus
  • Our CH 222 and FW 251 Students who tolerated our PowerPoint questions during the Winter Quarter of 2001.
  • The entire TLC Team - Joan, Sally, Lynn and all those who helped support this project

We would also like to thank you, the reader, for taking the time to read this report. Thanks!

All of the materials in this report can be found on the Web at

Feel free to contact either of us if you have any questions regarding any component of this topic.

VI. Resources For More Information

"Complimentary Chromatic Colors - Menu" web site by Marc Bergère; viewed at on May 15, 2001.

The "Creating Effective PowerPoint Presentations" web site collection by Jennifer Lagier (The Institute for Community Collaborative Studies, observed from: on May 14, 2001.

"Judicious PowerPoint" article by David G. Brown from Syllabus, March 2001, page 27.

"Microsoft Office - Microsoft PowerPoint" web site (Microsoft, observed from: on May 14, 2001.

The "PowerPoint Historical Review" PowerPoint presentation by Cathleen Belleville (A Bit Better Corporation,, downloaded from on May 14, 2001.

"PowerPoint-Induced Sleep" article by David G. Brown from Syllabus, January 2001, page 17.

"QuickTime" web site by Apple Computer ( observed from: on May 16, 2001.

Return to the TLC Proposal Homepage.

Questions about this material should be addressed to the authors,
Dr. Michael A. Russell, Professor of Chemistry, or
Dr. Walter H. Shriner, Professor of Wildlife Ecology, at
Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon

Last Updated on May 20, 2001