How to Present a PowerPoint: Tips to Use & Mistakes to Avoid

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Updated 9/1/2020

A quick guide for learning how to present a PowerPoint properly will always include the following tips to use and mistakes to avoid.

Top 5 Tips:

  1. Research, plan, and prepare.

  2. Highlight only what’s most important.

  3. Make no mistakes on the slides.

  4. Use high-quality templates, photos, and graphics.

  5. Practice, practice, practice.


Top 5 Mistakes:

  1. Read your slides to the audience.

  2. Make it cluttered or hard to read.

  3. Use worthless graphics, images, graphs, wordArt, etc.

  4. Transition too creatively. 

  5. Incorporate competing colors.

The latest 2019 updated version of Microsoft PowerPoint 16 provides a lot of great new features for designing, creating, and delivering presentations. Unfortunately, the features are all-too-often ignored or used in excess, which leads to bad, boring, or busy presentations. If you are guilty of doing this, it’s time to redeem yourself. Turn even the worst, nightmare PowerPoint presentations into fantastic, appreciated ones by incorporating these tips . . . and avoiding these mistakes. 

Top 5 Best PowerPoint Tips to Use

When you need to know how to present a PowerPoint properly, there is no need to get caught up in too many of the technical features that are packed into this presentation software tool. Keeping the slides simple and fresh, and presenting them professionally and aptly, is the surefire recipe to get to the point and enlist the audience for action.

Here’s what you need to do to pull it off:

1. Research, Plan, and Prepare

Before even entering PowerPoint, plenty of homework must be done for quality material to be integrated. Do the following things to research, plan, and prepare properly:

  • Decide on a narrative. What is the message that needs to be delivered, and why? 

  • Find quality-sourced facts, stats, figures, and graphs that match the narrative. 

  • Outline the information to be presented and put it in a logical and constructive order.

  • Know the audience and decide the best way to make your case specifically to them. Adjust language, examples, and illustrations as necessary to persuade.

2. Highlight Only What’s Most Important

After researching, planning, and preparing, you may have a ton of stuff that is worthy of sharing. However, highlighting only the most important aspects of the conversation will do more to make your case than an overwhelming input of info. The optimal number of slides is 10, and in a perfect world, no PowerPoint presentation will last longer than 20 minutes.

If needed, use an appendix people can refer to after the main presentation. Also, offer a Q&A session so the more curious attendees can feel fulfilled (announce at the beginning that there will be time for questions and answers at the end).

3. Make No Mistakes on the Slides

This one is obvious, but it’s just so easy to miss a little mistake! Not only are we talking about spelling and grammatical errors, but in the actual data as well. Trust us, people will confront you with them (usually in front of the entire group), and your credibility will go down the drain. 

Pointing back to #1, be positive that the facts, stats, and figures you use are accurate, up to date, and labeled clearly. Don’t use reports, studies, surveys, infographics, or charts that haven’t been authored or updated in the last year or two. Double-check any quotes you insert to be sure they come from the person you’re quoting (and don’t use them out of context). Finally, be sure your technology is hooked up properly to avoid any last-second glitches that make everyone cringe.

4. Use High-Quality Templates, Photos, and Graphics

We’ve all seen the same lame templates and generic stock photos a thousand times. Fresh, high-quality, and new options are more relevant and interesting to an audience. PowerPoint is good at updating their selections frequently, and they are curated by theme. 

When picking something to use, be sure it is:

  • Clean

  • Current

  • Appropriate

  • Applicable


Additionally, here are a few rules that can help your slide layouts conform to professional expectations:

  • Intentionally align every item. Missed alignment looks sloppy. Use the Rule of Thirds.

  • Skip fancy fonts. 30-point is great.

  • Limit punctuation. Use your voice to emphasize.

  • Have no more than six bullets on a slide, show one bullet point at a time, and use six words or less per bullet.

  • Add a short video. People love movies.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Rehearse, rewrite, rehearse, time, rewrite, rehearse, and time again. That’s what it takes to get it right. It may feel like an unneeded effort and a waste of time, but getting used to the material, its rhythm, and the intentional speed is essential. Not only will you inevitably find portions that don’t flow naturally enough, but practice makes it harder to be shy, flustered, stuttery, distracted, thrown off guard, or surprised in front of a group. Sharing with and presenting to a trusted colleague (and taking their feedback seriously) is gold.

When actually presenting:

  • Alternate between three focal points in the room (typically left, center, and right). Never turn your back to the audience.

  • Modulate your voice so you don’t come across as dull. Have a dialogue instead of a monologue. 

  • Vary the length of your sentences between short and complex.

  • Use a mirror to see your facial expressions as you speak.

Top 5 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes to Avoid

When learning how to present a PowerPoint, it’s easy to get caught up in the exciting features that are available. Between all the information and snazziness you want to pack in is an audience who really just wants to be informed, not entertained. For this reason, it’s imperative to avoid these five mistakes so you can keep your credibility.

1. Read Your Slides to the Audience

Believe it or not, it’s likely your audience has already read whatever is on your slide before you even begin to read it out loud to them. This means your audience will be bored and disengaged due to the repetition of information being given to them. 


For this reason, use your slides to emphasize or prove the information you are speaking of, not to deliver all the information verbatim. This presentation technique also has the added bonus of making you sound more knowledgeable and credible, which is a big deal as a presenter.


To aid you in this, take advantage of the presenter’s two-screen display, which allows the notes for each slide to be shown only on the presenter’s monitor.

2. Make It Cluttered or Hard to Read


With all the options available in PowerPoint, it’s tempting to clutter up a slide with a lot of wiz and bang. Showing more than three graphics, videos, animations, fonts, WordArt, sounds, graphs, boxes, bullets, colors, backgrounds, and transitions at once is overwhelming and dilutes the message you are trying to get across. 


Use the PowerPoint Slide Rule of 3+1+1:


  • 3 = Use only up to three total elements. This includes text, a picture, bullets, numbers, additional fonts, or another text color.

  • 1 = Only one background is allowed. This includes a color OR a pattern. Not both. Also, never put an animated GIF on top of a patterned background.

  • 1 = If it isn’t already an integral presentation point, one piece of flash (an animation, sound, or video) can be added on top of your main three elements.  

3. Use Worthless Graphics, Images, Graphs, WordArt, Etc.

Do not, under penalty of mockery, use unrelated visuals just to give the slides some “flair.” Using worthless visuals doesn’t jazz up a presentation, it annoys the audience. Don’t insert a cute picture or a funny cartoon. Make your images count and use them as “proof” of what is being said. 

4. Transition too Creatively 

Perhaps no single element has doomed more PowerPoint presentations than slide transitions. As a way to keep the audience from getting bored, some presenters tend to focus more attention on how slides arrive and leave rather than the information being presented. But this distracts the audience rather than helping them to focus. It also makes the presenter look like an amateur, not an expert. 

For a professional presentation, stick to a single transition for each section. This includes:

  • No Transition

  • Left to Right

  • Right to Left

  • Fade Smoothly


All other transitions are officially banned in a business or educational setting. And never use the customization to slow down a transition unless the next slide is supposed to be a surprise.

5. Incorporate Too Many (or Competing) Colors

Making your audience uncomfortable by incorporating too many (or competing) colors may help them remember the awful presentation, but won’t aid in driving your point home because it “hurts” the eyes and makes it difficult to read and understand what is trying to be shown. 

There aren’t extra points awarded to the most colorful or creative PowerPoint. Stick to the supplied color schemes and themes. There are plenty to choose from that will keep things interesting and memorable while remaining unique.

The Whole Point of PowerPoint

No matter your position, it’s always wise to know how to present a PowerPoint properly. Doing so means you’ll be taken seriously and that your message will be understood clearly. That’s the whole point of PowerPoint, so don’t use it just to add panache to your presentation. When used with restraint, this effective tool will enhance and engage, as well as excite and enact. 

To learn how to become a PowerPoint 2019 Power User, take the course offered by Pluralsight!


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Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson is a professional freelance writer and small business owner with the freelance writing business ArcticLlama, LLC. Brian’s experience includes network and systems administration, financial planning and advising, and he even has a degree in Biochemistry. Brian specializes in several areas of highly technical writing for ArcticLlama including technology, science and medical. He is also a freelance financial writer specialist. He lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Brian contributes articles on Windows Server 2008 and other related topics. (MCSE, CNA)