outline of a head with a strip of film passing through it

Why do you think so many people still ask me to tell them how to make a good PowerPoint presentation?  Surely by now everyone would have worked out that the typical corporate PowerPoint Presentations don’t work!   Well apparently not,  judging by the number of appalling examples I still see on a regular basis.

My theory for why bombardment by bullet point is still the norm, is simply that most people just copy what their peers and their bosses do. They never stop to ask themselves “Is there a  better way“”

In this article I’d like to challenge your thinking and share some practical information and tips that will show you the secrets of  how to make a good PowerPoint presentation.

NB: The advice I am giving hear relates specifically to a PowerPoint  (other slide tools are available!) presentation that is designed to be used alongside a live presenter, not a presentation designed to be read by an individual reader, in their own time on webpage or intranet site without an simultaneous audio commentary.

Tip 1: Don’t start in PowerPoint.
Your visual aids should NEVER be the main part of your presentation.   I’ll repeat that just in case you didn’t get it the first time.   Visual aids should NEVER, EVER be the main part of your presentation.    I always start by brainstorming ideas using a mindmap,  but I know that doesn’t suit everyone.  Some people use a word processing programme like Microsoft Word or Google Docs whilst others prefer post it notes.  Whatever your preference, not starting with PowerPoint is a crucial first step in learning how to make a good PowerPoint presentation.

Why not?
Slides are  something you add in at the end to help clarify or reinforce your verbal messages and starting in PowerPoint makes you focus on the visuals when you should be concentrating on the verbal story.   Plan your content and structure first.  Write you outline (or sometimes a script) and then add the visuals.    Steven Spielberg doesn’t start a new film project by getting the camera crew out to shoot pictures.  Spielberg starts with the story and so should you.

Tip 2: Don’t use bullet Points.
Yes I know that everyone else does, or at least that’s how it seems but stop and ask yourself why they do it this way.  Remember, they are just copying most other poor presenters,  and they probably think they won’t be able to remember what they want to say unless it’s on a slide. Come on guys,  you talk most of the time without a script.    Repeat after me  “My slides  are not my script!  Words on a screen are not visual aids,  but pictures, simple charts & diagrams are!”     And if you do need  a memory jogger either use the images on the slide,  make some notes or carry some small cue cards.   For more ideas on this topic including examples of visually rich slides  see my YouTube video on eradicating death by PowerPoint

Why not?
Have you ever seen any reputable evidence that proves that bullet points increase audience recall or retention?   No me neither because it doesn’t exist.  On the contrary,  Professor Richard E Meyer (in his book Multimedia Learning) published clear evidence that removing bullet points from a typical business PowerPoint actually increases recall by around 30%.  Imagine being able to increase the effectiveness by almost a third.  Isn’t that worth putting in a little extra effort

Tip 3: Don’t put multiple ideas on one slide
Back in stone age, when digital projectors and laptops didn’t exist and all we had were acetate transparencies and overhead projectors, slides were expensive to print and prepare so people used to cram as much information on each slide as they possibly could, presumably to save on expensive resources.    Today that’s not the case,  so why do people still cram 5, 6 or even seven different ideas on a single slide.   Do yourself and your audience a favour and impose a rule that there must only ever be one idea per slide.

Why not?
There are many theories to explain why slides with multiple ideas don’t work.  why this is.   The most current and sensible one to date,  relates to the way our memory works.  To get from senses to our  long-term memory, information needs to pass through a mental bottleneck called “working memory”.

Think of it as the cognitive equivalent of your mouth.    You can take in a huge amount of food  and enjoy the process only if you take your time to taste, chew, savour and swallow.   If somebody tried to force feed you the same amount of food, you would choke and most of it would never even reach your stomach.

By breaking your message up into bite sized pieces,  supported by clear simple single idea visual aids, you dramatically increase the  chance that your audience will digest, understand  and remember the information.

In conclusion:
Follow these three simple rules and I guarantee that your presentations will dramatically improve.  Now  you know how to make a good PowerPoint presentation.   If you enjoyed this post and found it useful please share it with your friends using the social sharing buttons below and leave a comment.   And if you didn’t enjoy it…. let’s just keep that our little secret.


  1. Arpit Daniel Das on 27/06/2013 at 19:47

    This a great post for all the presenters who want to be a successful presenter. The tips are nicely explained. I agree with Gavin that visual aids should be dealt latter on. Presentations should be designed with a pen and paper (you can create a script).
    Thanks for sharing this article with us
    authorSTREAM Team

    • Gavin Meikle on 27/06/2013 at 20:42

      Thanks for commenting Arpit. Your support is appreciated the more of us who “walk the talk” and demonstrate that there is a better way to use PowerPoint, the faster the message will spread. People need to see an alternative model in action.

      • Arpit Daniel Das on 01/07/2013 at 16:40

        Yes Gavin! You are absolutely right. People need to see an alternative model in action. When you use word PowerPoint people often take it as the boring part of their lives which is not true. We need presenters who can showcase their talent and creativity with PowerPoint and tell audience that PowerPoint is not boring at all.
        This is a wonderful article, we shared it on our Facebook page and people really loved it. You might like to take a look at this http://on.fb.me/1avc2rO .

  2. Adrian Reed on 27/06/2013 at 16:27

    Gavin, an excellent article which really hits the spot, thanks so much for sharing it!

    One thought that I’d add to this is the (seemingly) common practice of calling the PowerPoint deck “The” presentation. I know, I know, this sounds like I’m playing with semantics… but you’ll often hear people saying:

    “Sorry, I can’t attend the meeting, can you send me *the presentation*” (meaning the PowerPoint deck).

    This always seems really odd to me. Think of it in another context. Can you imagine someone phoning a theatre and saying:

    “I hear you have a wonderful rendition of Shakespeare this evening, but I can’t make it. Can you send me *the set*?”

    Sounds weird doesn’t it? Yet the “PowerPoint” (visual aid) is nor more the *Presentation* than the “Set” is the *Play*. Now there’s a riddle 🙂

    Thanks again for publishing this great article, Gavin.

    • Gavin Meikle on 27/06/2013 at 16:35

      You make a really interesting point Adrian, and I love the analogy you used. I would agree that the presentation is so much more than the “slide deck” . Again I think it steps form the days when the presenter put almost every word they said onto their slides. If your slides can stand on their own and be understandable with out you needing to be there to deliver them then either you or they are redundant!

      That’s why I sometimes suggest that people produce two versions of their slides,, one for live presenting and one that can be read online independently of the presenter. Decks that are designed to be comprehensive notes don’t work as good visuals when presenting live!

      • Craig Hadden – Remote Possibilities on 06/07/2013 at 13:36

        Thanks Gavin, these are really great tips.

        I’ve written about many of these ideas too. For instance, here are 7 types of slide content I suggest using instead of bullet points:

        I agree about comprehensive decks being no good for live presenting, too. One way around that is to keep the text off your slides and put it into the notes pane instead. Then, for people who couldn’t attend, you can “Save As” to a PDF and use the Options button to put your notes pages (rather than just your slides) into the PDF.

        Anyway, thanks again for the succinct tips.

        • Gavin Meikle on 07/07/2013 at 10:05

          Thanks for the support and the additional information which I found useful and I am sure that others will too. The tip on using text in notes pages is a great way to get around the problem of having simple slides and detailed notes. Best wishes. Gavin Meikle, The presentation Doctor.

  3. Duncan Brodie on 25/06/2013 at 17:03

    Excellent article and also great YouTube video too Gavin

    • Gavin Meikle on 25/06/2013 at 18:21

      Thanks Duncan. I’d love to know what other topics you’d be interested in reading about. If you have a minute please complete my 2 min survey http://goo.gl/yjhgy

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