Designing Presentations: PowerPoint and Prezi Do’s and Don’ts!

Most college students will be expected at some point to deliver a presentation. While this task may seem simple, creating an effective presentation requires a basic understanding of design and content as well as knowledge of the conventions of presentations. Tools such as PowerPoint or Prezi are intended to enhance the overall quality of your presentation, acting as a visual aid for both the audience and the presenter by helping to keep presentations on track. This article offers a few critical but easy-to-apply strategies for preparing your next Prezi or PowerPoint.

Picking a Platform

Before you can begin to design your presentation, you should first consider which platform is most appropriate for delivering your project. As you make your selection, keep in mind your main purpose and audience. Prezi and PowerPoint are two popular mediums for delivering presentations and are useful design tools to help you prepare a strong presentation. However, each may not be equally suited to your intent. Therefore, it is important to strategically plan the best way to present your information. You can begin this process by asking yourself some questions, such as:

What information do I want my audience to take away from my presentation? What is the goal of my message? How can I most effectively present the information to support or illustrate my goal? Does my information have a clear beginning, middle, and end, which would benefit from a more linear presentation structure? Would my information best be presented in a non-linear format? Does my presentation require more multimedia elements? Does file size matter? Will I want the option of easily sharing my presentation with others?

The answers you provide to these and other similar questions will help you decide if PowerPoint or Prezi is the best option to supplement the information in your presentation.

PowerPoint

Offered with the Microsoft Office software suite, PowerPoint is arguably the most well-known presentation software available. PowerPoint has a predominantly linear structure in which slides of information are presented one at a time as the presentation progresses.

  • Pros. Due to the straightforward, linear model of PowerPoint, users can choose to use this option for presentations organized chronologically, or those with a clear beginning, middle, and end. PowerPoint is also fairly simple to use, giving users the ability to create professional-looking visual aids without struggling to learn the software.

  • Cons. PowerPoint relies heavily on slideshow templates, which can sometimes be fairly static and difficult to manipulate or redesign. As a result, the template may dictate the design and content rather than the user choosing the most appropriate design for their information. In this way, the template can drive the design instead of the user making decisions that enhance the overall message for the purpose and audience. In addition, it is easy to overuse bullet points on the templates, causing slides to appear text-heavy and not as visually appealing. When using PowerPoint, to avoid falling into the traps of using templates, it is good practice to ask yourself: Does this design element add or subtract from the main purpose of my presentation? How might I change the template to most effectively connect with my audience?
PowerPoint Image
A Sample PowerPoint. The above image demonstrates the linear structure of a PowerPoint by laying out the slides in chronological order.


Prezi

Many users like Prezi in part because this cloud-based software provides a different approach to presentations. Prezi is a ‘virtual canvas’ model that looks much like a collage of elements (images, video clips, word art, etc) instead of the traditional slideshow design (see example image below). Due to its non-linear, map-like layout, Prezis allows users to zoom in and out of content. For a sample Prezi, please view the following link: Sample Prezi

  • Pros. Prezi is a helpful tool because it allows users to more easily integrate media such as video clips and images into their presentations. The cloud-based application makes Prezi shareable between individuals and electronic devices in a simple and efficient way. Also, due to the non-linear method of zooming in and out of content, Prezi presentations can appear more dynamic than a traditional PowerPoint. The zooming feature allows you to place more emphasis on certain elements in the presentation based on your purpose and audience’s needs. Therefore when designing a Prezi, it is helpful to ask yourself: What are the most important components of my presentation? What would be the most effective way to structure the path of my Prezi so that my audience remembers the important information?

  • Cons. Like PowerPoint, templates are available to assist with creation for beginners. Even though Prezis can provide more creative freedom than PowerPoint, it is still easy to fall into the same trap of the template driving the design of the presentation. In addition, Prezis are not as simple to create as PowerPoints and they can be more difficult for novice users to manipulate as they require more planning.

To view the Prezi website for more information, click the link: Prezi

Prezi Image
A Sample Prezi. The above image shows the map-like, collage style of a Prezi presentation. Zooming in on the bubbles provides the dynamic effect.


Designing Your Presentation

Once you have selected which platform you will use to create your project, you may begin to design your presentation. It is important to note that there are a few “best practices” for designing effective presentations users should consider going forward. Remember: your PowerPoint or Prezi should support your presentation rather than be the main focus. You want your audience to be focused on YOU, not your presentation aid.

  • Use media to engage your audience. Presentations can be boring if they are too text-heavy. Adding appropriate images and video clips can help to promote audience interest and engagement. However, using too much media, or media not directly relevant to your topic, can detract from your presentation. Media should create an appropriate balance with your text and offer a clear story. Generally, it is best to limit the amount of text used and supplement with images that relate to your overall message.

    Questions to ask yourself when considering media for your presentation: What kind of visuals would aid in presenting my information? If I have statistics, would it be helpful to display them in a chart or graph? Does this image add or subtract from the message of this slide? Does this video (or image, chart, graph, etc.) illustrate my message effectively, and is it appropriate to use it to support my presentation?

  • Poor Use of Visuals
    Poor Use of Visuals. Overcrowded slides with confusing graphics frustrate audience members and are not visually appealing.


    Better Use of Visuals
    Better Use of Visuals. Simple images with a few descriptive words balance this slide nicely. This is an effective way to present the information without overcrowding a slide with text.


  • Consider color. Think about ways in which you can integrate color into your presentation. Of course, you should select a color scheme which is appropriately suited to the purpose of your project. Think about how, through using color, you can highlight important information. For more information on using color, please see our resource on color theory .

    Questions to ask yourself when considering color schemes: What is the tone of my message? What kind of feeling do I want my audience to perceive from my presentation? Do I want them to be inspired, angry, happy, etc.? Does my message lend itself to bold colors with high contrast, or muted colors that blend together? Would my presentation be better served with a monotone color scheme with varying shades of one primary color? Should I use two or three colors in my scheme? How can I design more right-brained slides to connect with my audience?
  • Brain Image
    Design Right-Brained Slides. The right side of the brain responds to color and creativity. In order to engage your audience, design ‘right-brained slides’ that have good visuals and strategic use of colors with little text.


  • Think about type. Try to use fonts other than ‘Times New Roman’ or ‘Calibri’ for your presentation as these fonts tend to be overused. Experiment with contrasting fonts to create an aesthetically appealing effect. For example, try using a sans serif font such as ‘Impact’ for titles or subheadings and a serif like ‘Centaur’ for content. For more information on using fonts, please see our resource on typography .

    Questions to ask yourself when thinking about type: Is this a serif or sans serif font? Does the contrast of these two fonts look visually appealing? Is this particular font readable for my audience? Does this font best reflect the tone of my presentation?

  • Example Text
    Example of Good Typography. The title font is “Impact,” and the text font is “Centaur” in this example.

Quick Tips

When designing a presentation, there are a few practices you should avoid. Generally, speaking you should steer clear of the following.

  • Relying on the template. Often, templates can restrict the creative process, making presentations ‘interface-driven.’ This means that the template drives the choices you make instead of you, as the user or creator. Design elements should be implemented with your purpose and audience in mind instead of following the template guidelines. Also, default color schemes or designs may not be appropriate for your presentation depending on the message you are attempting to convey. For example, a dark color scheme would not lend itself well to a presentation about the need for a new daycare center.

  • Including too much text on a slide. Including too much information on a slide looks cluttered and can distract both the presenter and the audience from the actual presentation. Your visual aid should support your presentation rather than your entire presentation being on your slides.

  • Using unnecessary effects such as sounds or animations. Using unnecessary animations or sound effects that do not connect with your purpose can detract from the content of the presentation.

  • Leaving too much white space. A presentation with too much white space may appear plain or boring. Instead, make sure to have a good balance of text and visuals that support your presentation.

  • Reading off the slide. In addition to being boring, reading off the slide diminishes your credibility as a presenter. PowerPoint and Prezi are meant to support your presentation rather than act as scripts. Remember: create audience-centered slides, not author-centered slides. You want your audience to pay attention to YOU, not your PowerPoint or Prezi.

As you go on to design your future presentations, be sure to make deliberate decisions concerning media, color and type. Best wishes for happy designing!


Resources Consulted

Consilio, Jennifer. “New Rules For PowerPoint Presentations.” Writing for the Professions. Lewis University, Romeoville. n.d. Lecture.

Kjeldsen, Jens E. “The Rhetoric of PowerPoint.” International Journal of Media, Technology and Lifelong Learning 2.1 (2006): n. pag. Web. 9 Jun 2015.

Potter, Ned. “Prezi for the Win? Ten Top Tips to Make it a Good One.” Ned Potter. TheWikiman.org, May 2013. Web. 11 Jun. 2015.

Prezi. Prezi Inc, 2015. Web. 11 Jun. 2015.

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