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Project Presentations Part 2 Print

We've all suffered through painful presentations.

In today technological world, most presenters use slides. We've seen slides that you couldn't read, slides that didn't apply, obvious errors, and even slides that failed because they used too many tricks. Any of those can ruin your credibility and turn the audience off. So let's look at some ways to build the slides for a good presentation. Part 1 covered planning the presentation and Part 3 will cover making the presentation.

In case you are thinking that you won't bother with slides, here are some facts that might help clarify why you should use slides when you present:

83% of our information comes from seeing, 11% from hearing.

And after 5 days we retain only 5% of what we are told, 15% of data that we see, but 70% of what we gather from combined audio and visual stimuli. Therefore, you want the important points to be seen and heard!

Build your slides and what you plan to say

Each slide should stand on its own. In most cases you should almost be able to randomly shuffle them and have the presentation still make sense. Keeping that in mind will help you to winnow out slides that are unnecessary. For every slide, ask yourself "Why is this necessary?" Make sure each one is necessary and adds to the briefing.

Some general rules for slides

  • Clarity - make the slides understandable
  • Simple concepts - if they are complex, try to simplify them
  • Accuracy - make sure that everything is correct (e.g., make sure that numbers add up and things are labeled properly)
  • Unity of concept - focus a slide on a single topic
  • Smallest number - use no more slides than are necessary
  • Pertinence -ensure that the slide relates to what you want to get across
  • Format consistency - use the same basic format throughout (some variety can help keep it interesting, but it also can detract)


Here are some rules for the individual slides

  • No more than 3 main points
  • Max of 8 lines (some people say no more than 5 lines)
  • Max of 25-30 words
  • Simple (sans serif) font - Arial is a good choice
  • Use both upper and lower case
  • For bullets or numbers, your points should not be full sentences, but should be short highlights
  • They must be READABLE! Use BIG fonts, especially for figures. Also use thick lines for graphs.

It is good to test your slides in real conditions to see if they are readable. If that isn't possible, try putting a printed slide on the floor and see if you can read it while standing above it.

  • Slides should be Landscape, and placed at the top of the screen.
  • Colors: use strongly contrasting colors and avoid dark backgrounds. Also try to avoid red and green combinations because many people are colorblind.
  • For figures/graphs, include legends and units that make clear what is good and what is bad. Include some kind of reference plot/point/numbers (something for comparison)
  • Every slide should have a title and a page number (except the title page).
  • Use transition charts. Transition charts prepare the audience for what is next.


Practice, practice, practice

You have your topic, you've built the slides and you know what you want to say; what's next? Practice, of course. It helps to dry run it on someone who will give you honest feedback. They can help you find problems with the slides, the organization and how you come across. Listen to what they have to say about how you did. Then try it again. Do it until it is right. Part 3 gives some guidelines and helpful hints on making the presentation.

And in conclusion…

As a PM you are going to have to give briefings. There is no way around it. You want the presentation to be useful and understandable. Good slides can really help. They also provide a source for people to go back and look at what was said or to pass on to others. Bad slides can really damage the presentation. Good slides can enhance the presentation and help make you (and the project) a success.

Wayne Turk (c) 2008


About the Author

Wayne Turk is an independent management and project management consultant with Suss Consulting. He is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and defense contractor. He has supported information technology projects, policy development and strategic planning projects for federal agencies, companies and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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