With all the visuals and multimedia that you can see in PowerPoint presentations these days, it is easy to forget that most important element of any presentation: text! Nothing symbolizes content like text. You might have heard that a picture is worth a thousand words but the caption that accompanies any picture is also text. Without that caption, the picture might not have had relevance or meaning.
Audiences nowadays often comprise a varied selection of people from different parts of the world. Add to that different demographics, different generations, different abilities and so many more differences! Even with conventional text, it is so easy to go wrong.
In the rest of this article, we’ll explore ways to make more effective use of text in PowerPoint. Even before that, I want to assure you that I’m not advising you to get rid of all your graphics and multimedia in PowerPoint presentations – rather I’m just suggesting that you do not undermine the significance of text.
- Prune Long Sentences: Long sentences may be fine in documents and your conversation, but they certainly have no place in the limited area that a slide comprises. More often than not, presentations are accompanied by presenters or speakers – leave those long sentences to them. Or you might want to add those sentences in the Notes pane for each individual slide.
To start with, retain the long sentences – thereafter prune them to phrases. Even when you are pruning them to phrases, do retain some sort of consistency. For example, if one of your phrases starts with a verb, try to replicate that for all phrases – it is one thing to make a grammatical mistake and another to have an entire audience see it projected in big bold text.
Repeat the pruning process more than once until you have small phrases that essentially convey your message. It is for the presenter or speaker to use these phrases as a framework and then elaborate them while presenting.
And how would you arrange those phrases on a slide? More often than not, people tend to use bulleted lists comprising the phrases. However, do experiment with removing the bullets altogether – a school of thought has evolved recently which suggests that great presentations can be created without bullets.
- Text Readability: The readability of your text onscreen is very important. Don’t use red text on green backgrounds since approximately 10 percent of the world’s population is colour blind and cannot distinguish between the two colours. Also avoid using purple text on a blue background
Even with colours that pose no readability or inaccessibility problems, you need to be careful of contrast. Here are some guidelines:
- Dark text on a dark background provides the worse contrast. Similarly, light text on a light background provides the worse contrast.
- Text of a similar colour provides a better contrast but is still not very legible
- Light text on a dark background provides the best contrast. Similarly, dark text on a light background provides the best contrast.
- Text Point Sizes – Keep text sizes large enough. As a rule of the thumb, don’t use any text size that’s smaller than 24 points on a slide.
Even then, it might be a good idea to test the text in a projected environment before the final showing. If you don’t have access to the projected environment, try to simulate that by reading text from at least 2 metres away from your display.
Do remember that you can include text below 24 points if they are copyright notices or picture captions – even for something like this, do not use anything lower than 18 points size. Also be aware that not all fonts are the same and changing fonts can affect appearances – Arial 24 pt. is not the same as Times New Roman 24 pt.
- Avoid Font Overload – Never, ever use more than two font styles on a single slide – in fact, I’ll correct that: don’t use more than two font styles in an entire presentation.
Using many font styles makes the presentation look non-cohesive – it also makes the content on the slides appear unrelated to each other.
More often than not, presentations work best with sans serif fonts like Arial, Verdana and Tahoma. It’s also a good idea to use one serif and one sans serif font in a presentation – if you do that, use the sans serif font for the titles and the serif font for the other text. However, I personally use only one font in a presentation – and most of the time, it’s a sans serif font like Arial.