Greatest PowerPoints in the history of the universe

It’s the season for painful PowerPoint presentations. You owe me, by the way, for avoiding the awful ’tis construction.)

I doing four of these slideshows in the last two weeks of this semester, and I’ve seen a whole bunch already.

One of my professors even spent a class session with a presentation on presentations. She called it “PowerPoint Not as a Form of Torture.” Six weeks later, nobody in our class has much heeded any of her advice.

Only pay attention if you don’t want to fail.

1. Start with something that captures your class’ attention.

In the education world, we call this a set induction. It could be a funny or pithy quote, some funny or interesting picture, or simply some funny or insightful cartoon.

Funny plays well.

2. Don’t just read off the slides.
The most annoying flaw of otherwise phenomenal PowerPoint presentations is that the person presenting them reads off the slides, as if his audience were illiterate or blind. Don’t insult the intelligence of your peers.

3. Use big, san serif text.
My rule of thumb: headings should be 60 pt. Arial; regular text should be 40-pt. Arial; and sub-bullets should be 32-pt. Arial. Keep the sizes consistent, which generally means a 2-pt. decrease if you must to get all the words on your slide. Don’t do this to sub-bullets — they’re already too small.

Arial, by the way, is a standard, multi-platform, san serif font that is always easy to read. It’s also usually the default in Microsoft PowerPoint.

Which brings me to my next point.

4. Don’t Mess With Default
Let the bullets be round circles, not diamonds or squares. Let the sub-bullets be dashes, not other permutations. Remember that the point of a PowerPoint is to assist your lecture. Dazzling people with flashing graphics, fancy transitions and pictures that take up an entire slide with text on top doesn’t help you because they just about always distract your audience.

Bothering to change the bullet circles into bullet squares is a waste of time.

5. Use plain-color backgrounds, not pictures or themes.
Pictures, even when they aren’t a bunch of garish colors, pretty much always have high contrast. That means that there’s a lot of light and dark, which makes it hard for a single text color to be visible and clear when you see it from the back of the room.

Even if you use a theme that has a lot of plain color in the middle, they almost always look cheesy. Take a page from the guys who make the iPods. Simple color schemes are a lot better looking.

My rule of thumb is to use three colors in your PowerPoint: one each for background, heading and main bullet text.

6. Headlines must be centered over text.
Careful about the space bar or the tab key — contrary to what your grandmother would tell you, they do not center text. If you don’t know how to properly center text, search “alignment” in your help documentation.

7. Pictures should be powerful, and undistorted.
Don’t stretch pictures or make them too big. If you have reason to play it at all, play it so that it fits at least a quarter of the slide. Smaller, and it isn’t worth it.

Use stupid clip art under penalty of F.

8. Don’t play with formatting.
Do not underline. Bold short key phrases for emphasis. Italicize, but sparingly. Don’t use exclamation points (!), ellipses (…), brackets([]). Use parentheses very sparingly. Don’t use all capital letters.

These get REALLY annoying! (And… they look totally unprofessional.)

This should be good enough for now. Good luck, and don’t be too horrible.

If you have feedback or even more ideas, feel free to comment below.

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