The 4 Cardinal Rules of Terrific PowerPoint Presentations

Businessman giving PowerPoint presentation to table of executives
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Because a business presentation is meant to inform, motivate, and create a call to action, PowerPoint is commonly used in business meetings as an aid to the topic at hand. Despite the proliferation and simplicity of this visual aid, the misuse of PowerPoint technology frequently ends up detracting from the original intent of the meeting. 

You can create and deliver a powerful PowerPoint presentation if you understand these four cardinal rules.

1. Don't Pretend to Be an Author Reading From Your Book

The first (and often broken) cardinal rule of effective PowerPoint presentations is forgetting the intent of the software. PowerPoint isn’t a word document program or a means for dumping data on an audience. If you cut and paste text from a written document into the PowerPoint presentation, that's a surefire method for alienating your audience.

The biggest mistake presenters make is taking on the role of a lector reading content from the slides. Keep in mind that you're the "presenter," not a reader, and your job is to wow your audience by connecting with them as you guide them through the slides.

2. Simple Is Always Best

Simplicity is at the heart of every good business presentation. People do not want, nor can they absorb, a lot of information in one sitting. Consider the unfettered look of the Google homepage or the clean and simple design of the iPad. Both have created a passionate fan base.

To move people with your business presentation, your PowerPoint needs to evoke emotion with simple yet powerful messages and images. As a rule, less is always more when delivering a top-notch business presentation. If you think you've simplified it enough, try taking out a little more.

3. Pictures Over Words

The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” cuts to the heart of effective PowerPoint presentations. Hubspot's 25 Best PowerPoint presentations all feature more graphics and fewer words. Also, each of the presentations used compelling original images, not boring, generic clip art. Remember, even though PowerPoint presentations contain facts and statistics, people see presentations, they don't read them.

4. Incorporate the Unexpected

To create a memorable presentation, you need to go beyond the expected. Stirring up controversy or challenging the beliefs of your audience is one method for waking them up and keeping them engaged.

Chip and Dan Heath are the authors of the bestselling book, "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive." If you heed their advice, you'll elevate your presentations to a higher level while engaging your audience:

If we want to motivate people to pay attention we should seize the power of big surprises. Break patterns, create mystery, build unique stories, and find knowledge gaps. The unexpected equals attention.

How to Wow Your Audience

Not everyone is a natural public speaker. Even the most accomplished business people can experience stage fright when addressing an audience. In these cases, the presenter tends to read from notes and not make eye contact with the audience. But this leaves audiences unengaged and uninterested.

To wow your audience, don’t use PowerPoint as a note toll. Take the time to familiarize yourself with your topic and the touchstone points that make up your presentation. Simplify your slides and spice them up with captivating images. Practice your presentation so that you'll be ready to engage your audience. They may even forget you're using PowerPoint.