11 Commandments for PowerPoint*


PowerPoint has become a major tool used to disseminate information in classrooms. Yet many faculty and students often use PowerPoint in ways that distract and confuse viewers. To help, consider these 11 commandments for using PowerPoint effectively:

  1. Thou shalt not put War and Peace on a slide. Too much text on a slide makes it difficult for a learner to both see and process information. The solutions are easy. Use more slides or outline only major ideas on each slide and then verbally add details. Guidelines suggest no more than six bullet points per slide, no more than six words per point. 
  2. Thou shalt not use fonts smaller than 28-point. Do you need bifocals to read slides on a huge projection screen? Why make your audience squint? Not only is that irritating, but it can cause eye fatigue, and viewers miss important information. To check your font size, print out a slide, put it on the floor at your feet. If you can read it from a standing position, then your font size should work in a typical sized classroom.
  3. Thou shalt not use busy backgrounds or ineffective colors. Donít make your audience need sunglasses. If a background has too much going on, it competes with the information. Also, poor color choices make slides difficult to read. When broadcasting PowerPoint slides over a two-way video system, yellow is a very difficult color on the viewerís eyes. Consider using aesthetically pleasing color choices with good color contrast. And bear in mind that dark slides in a darkened room in a class after lunch may be just a little too soothing. Light fonts on a dark background are best for projection, dark fonts on a light background are best for printed slides. 
  4. Thou shalt not complicate slides with too many figures and tables. The whole purpose of showing a figure or table is lost when a learner must focus on trying to make sense of all the numeric information. Use a handout instead, or refer to a page number or a website where the information can be perused at leisure. If a large table needs to be part of a presentation, break it into chunks on several slides and focus on one aspect of it at a time. 
  5. Thou shalt use animation, audio, and pictures in moderation. While animations work well for the Cartoon Network, you donít want your audience to focus on the bombs bursting in air and flags waving. Remember, the goal is to transmit information, not lose your message in the glitz. Pictures and audio can help break up the monotony of written words, but use them to enhance your message, instead of letting them become the message. 
  6. Thou shalt acknowledge all references used. Thou shall not tell a lie or steal someone elseís thunder. The same rules of evidence apply with PowerPoint. When you use a quote, table, figure, or summarize someone elseís work, cite the source.
  7. Thou shalt surely back up thy presentation. Save and save often is not just good advice, it should be the law. Remember, it is not ďifĒ technology will fail, it is when; and you must be prepared. Backup your work on disk!
  8. Thou shalt not read the slides word for word. If all the learner needed to do was read the slide, you would not need to be there. Use the slides as guides for a presentation. Also, donít take the slides right out of your resources. Use the slides to zero in on important topics, and add more material orally! 
  9. Thou shalt not use slides alone. One or more hours of nothing but talk and PowerPoint slides would bore anyone. Use interactive exercises to address other learning styles. Remember, the mind can only absorb what the butt can endure. (Even if your presentation is only 15 minutes it is still a good idea to use interactive exercises, demonstrations, or other such methods to supplement your PowerPoint mini-lecture.)
  10. Thou shalt practice. Donít go in cold and fumble. PowerPoint is only a tool ó one you need to use with poise and confidence.
  11. Thou shalt allow the listener time to process the slides. While fast talking makes great commercials, it does not make for effective instruction. Donít put up a slide and then skip over it ó thatís very confusing. Always allow time for questions, and encourage your audience to ask them. Be sure to determine if your audience understands the concepts you are presenting before moving on.

Adapted from: The Teaching Professor, June/July 2004

Creating PowerPoint presentations (a "how to" technical guide)


Created by Laura Ellen Shulman 


Last updated: October 13, 2005