“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.” — Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Thoreau probably would have been reluctant to use a PowerPoint presentation to spread his philosophy. His advice on keeping things simple, however, has a modern application. In fact a professional PowerPoint design relies on the simplicity of white space and lack of clutter.
Just as readers appreciate a generous amount of white space in any written product, your audience will stay connected during your PowerPoint presentation if you follow these five principles:
1. Clear away the background color. Busy backgrounds add unwanted complexity to your slides. Try going with a basic white background and see the difference.
2. Boot out that footer. You don’t have to use your logo on every slide. Save the logo and disclaimers for the first and last slides.
3. Cut away distracting and unnecessary clipart. If you’re unsure whether the clipart is necessary, take it out. If your message is undiminished, leave it out. Removing that clipart recovers extra territory and the whitespace you want.
4. Convey just one idea per slide. It takes the same amount of time to show one slide with three points as it takes to show three slides with a single point each.
5. Distinguish the title of your slide from its subordinate content. Try using a different font type and size or color. Add a background bar and consider placing a line between the title and the rest of the slide.
Finally, there’s the “10/20/30” rule. That would equate to:
Just 10 slides for each presentation. This may sound arbitrary, but it encourages wise use of design and content.
A 20-minute presentation limit. This forces relentless editing and covering only the most essential points. If you have lots of details you’d just love for everyone in your audience to have, send it out later via e-mail or through a handout.
A minimum 30-point font pretty much guarantees readability by everyone in your audience. Of course, bigger is always better.
The foregoing advice, as well as the 10/20/30 rules are, of course, not etched in bronze. After all, a PowerPoint presentation is just a speaker’s aid. While Thoreau advocated an unrelenting dedication to keeping everything simple, Albert Einstein probably was closer to the mark:
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”