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New to Presentation Tools? Here are 4 Tips for Beginners

PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote can make your ordinary reports more engaging

spinner image a woman on a laptop presenting to an audience

Many of us deliver presentations for colleagues or clients, but few probably enjoy it.

Creating a compelling presentation — be it in Microsoft’s popular PowerPoint, Google Slides or Apple Keynote — can be stressful, especially for those not very tech savvy. You may have marveled at how colleagues smoothly displayed information, using charts, graphs, photos and videos to make the data more engaging.

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You can do it, too.

1. Collect your thoughts and materials

Before you create your first slide, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the presentation for? Sometimes you’ll hear that called your target audience.
  • What do you want to convey in your talk?
  • How much time are you allotted? That will determine how deep you should delve into a topic.
  • Do I have everything I need to start?

Gather all your materials first, long before your presentation is due, in case you need to wait on someone for information, photos and graphics.

2. Choose a template

Don’t give yourself more work. Presentation software usually has templates with layouts, fonts and color schemes, so you don’t have to worry as much about design.

Perhaps pick a color in the company logo or tied to the topic. You can easily change a template’s color and font if you have second thoughts.

To choose one from the app’s library:

In PowerPoint, also part of the Microsoft 365 suite, don’t click on the Blank Presentation box. Instead, select a template option beside it represented with a thumbnail image. Don’t see what you like? Click More themes. You’ll find dozens to choose from, which will require a download. Even more options are available online through a link at the bottom of the screen.

In Google Slides, at the top of the page, under Start a new presentation, you’ll see a template gallery with several thumbnails and a pulldown menu that allows you to look at even more. Choose your favorite. 

In Apple’s Keynote, for Macs only, click New Document to go to a screen titled Choose a Theme, Apple’s name for templates. Scroll down to see thumbnails and click one to get going. 

3. Keep it simple

Less is more when creating slides for your presentation. Think of each screen more like a postcard of your vacation than a note card for a term paper.

Make the text brief. A bunch of words on the screen may become difficult for people to see. Screens are small if you’re online, and if you’re in the office, think about the person sitting in the back of the room.

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Instead use key phrases or bulleted lists on the slides. Expand upon ideas as you speak clearly and confidently. Don’t go too quickly or too slowly.

Use contrasting colors for text and background, dark text on a light background or light text on a dark background. Patterned backgrounds can reduce readability.

Avoid flashy transitions between slides or anytime during your presentation. Fancy animations and cute sound effects get old quickly.

Limit the number of slides you create, at most one per minute. Those who constantly change slides like they’re flipping channels on a TV quickly risk losing their audience.

Use large images on screen or videos without sound that you can talk over to keep your audience engaged.

Practice, practice, practice. Work on moving forward or backward within your presentation in case you accidentally skip ahead. That way you can go to a previous screen whenever you or someone asking a question needs it.

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4. Add speaker notes to your slides

Not enough presenters take advantage of notes within presentation software to read or refer to information that the audience can’t see.

This is how you can expand upon the brief slide on screen without reciting it verbatim. If you tend to be nervous delivering a talk, the key points can keep you on track.

In PowerPoint, the Notes pane is a short box that appears below each slide. An empty Notes pane will prompt you with text that says, “Click to add notes.”

If you don’t see the Notes pane or it's minimized, click Notes on the task bar across the bottom of the PowerPoint window. You can enlarge the Notes pane by pointing your mouse at the top line of the pane, then dragging upward after the pointer turns into an up-down arrow ↕. Or highlight the text and enlarge the font to make it easier to read. When you’re ready to practice or give your presentation, choose View | Presenter View, and only you will see the notes under each slide. Hit your escape key, esc, in the upper left corner of the keyboard to leave Presenter View.

In Google Slides, you should see a box similar to PowerPoint’s Notes at the bottom of your screen. If not, choose View | Show speaker notes and type your notes in the box that says, “Click to add speaker notes.”

To enlarge the box, place your cursor above it. The usual arrow will change into a hand, and you can click and drag the hand up or down until the box is your preferred size. You also can change the font size and type just as you would on a word processor.

To privately see your notes as you’re presenting, look for the Slideshow button in the upper right corner of your screen. To its right is a triangle pointing down ▾. Choose the first option underneath, Presenter view, and a window will pop up with your notes while the audience sees only your slides. Hit your escape key, esc, in the upper left corner of the keyboard to leave Presenter view.

In Apple Keynote on any slide, click the icon above View at the top right of your screen in the toolbar. Select Show Presenter Notes in the pulldown menu.

A large white box will appear at the bottom of your screen for you to type in your notes. To change the font size or format the text in your notes, use the controls in the sidebar to the right of the screen.

To see your notes privately during a presentation, you’ll need at least two screens, one for the presentation and one so you can see your notes. Click Play | Play Slideshow. With the presentation playing, click the icon that has two squares and a longer rectangle underneath on the screen that is not the main slideshow. If you don’t see it, move your mouse to make it appear.

Hit your escape key, esc, in the upper left corner of the keyboard to leave Presenter View.

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