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May 2024
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Make Your Slides Sing

Compelling images and sharp text will boost your PowerPoint presentation.

By Ryan Urie

Man onstage giving presentation

PowerPoint. For many, the very word conjures grim memories of colleagues monotonously reading projected bullet points while everyone else waits for the meeting to be over. With the advent of smartphones, audiences today will no longer tolerate such unengaging presentations.

PowerPoint can greatly enhance speeches. Want to make the most of this ubiquitous technology and ensure your presentation stands out and makes an impact?

As Toastmasters know, presentations are not primarily about sharing information. Videos, reports, infographics and other media can all achieve that goal far more expeditiously. No, the reason we still meet with real people in real places and give live speeches is because it’s still the most effective way to build trust and create emotional connections.

A well-delivered speech can—in a few minutes—influence, persuade and inspire far more powerfully than any quantity of data, facts or logic. PowerPoint allows you to present relevant facts and data, and then demonstrate why they matter. The slide deck is not the presentation—you are. The audience is there to experience your passion, your body language, your personality, your spontaneity and presence. PowerPoint slides are only useful to the extent that they enhance you and your message.


“The easiest way to improve your slides is to put less stuff on them.”

Do You Really Need a PowerPoint?

Take a moment to consider whether PowerPoint is the best tool for your message. It’s the primary presentation format in much of the professional world because it’s simple, expected and familiar. These strengths also make it predictable and easy to forget.

Attention-grabbing demonstrations, hands-on activities and props may be the best way to engage your audience. Consider how Bill Gates famously released a swarm of mosquitoes during a presentation to drive home his points about the global malaria problem. Another time he drank a glass of water that had been human waste only minutes before. What a dramatic stunt to draw attention to the potential of new water-treatment technologies. Both times he created a media sensation.

Images Can Speak Volumes.

You can still create impact with PowerPoint. Simple yet enthralling slides can reinforce a point, evoke emotion, aid in understanding complex material and convey visually what words cannot. Create a wow-worthy visual statement. Fire up your listeners. To paraphrase Josh Bernoff, who blogs about writing and communication, if the audience is no different after seeing your presentation, then you have wasted their time.

Improve slides by putting less stuff on them. Too much content dilutes the message. So, to create value for the audience, you need to do the hard work of distilling the details down to the essential message and nothing more.

Use as few words as possible, ideally no more than five or six per slide. If you have large amounts of data to share, use a handout or email a file; don’t just cram it on the slide. Designer and instructor John McWade recommends making slides so simple they can be presented on a smartphone.


“It’s not that reports aren’t valuable; they just shouldn’t be projected on a screen so an audience can participate in a ‘read-along.’”


Hunt for sharp, memorable images that support your message. Sites like and make it easy to acquire free, high-quality imagery, and they don’t even require attribution.

Power past the traditional bar and pie charts. If you want to show that 25% of the forest burned in a fire, a map showing 25% represented by flames is more memorable than a pie chart. If your message is about overfishing, show 100 fish on the slide followed by a slide with the number proportionally reduced. Visuals help shift the audience’s viewpoint from understanding your message to feeling it, and from there, wanting to act on it.

Presentations should be grounded in facts, but you need to connect those facts to your audience’s real-life concerns for those facts to matter. Only then will your presentation have an impact.


Watch the video below for additional tips on how to effectively use visual aids for your next presentation.

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