For main busy executives, the idea of taking time out to plan the design of their presentation slides is a foreign concept. But a little bit of thought and consistency can go a long way.
If you are one of the many who picks a PowerPoint background at random then it is time to thing again. All the backgrounds provided by Microsoft have been used time and time again. As soon as someone sees that perennial blue fade background with the wavy lines across the top, they instantly remember the last boring presentation they sat through and assume yours will be the same.
To create an original looking background to your presentation, try using a relevant photograph. The only problem is that most photographs have a combination of light and dark, which can make any text laid on top difficult to read. By making the background image a “watermark” or giving it a high level of transparency, you can create a unique a relevant background without interfering with the legibility of the slides.
Another option is to add the text in a text box and then fill the text box with a pale colour and set the transparency level to about 50%. This makes the text more readable but the underlying picture still shows through.
One thing that I approve of in the later release of PowerPoint is the concept of themes, which include a range of colours, and fonts for each theme. To the design illiterate like me, it means that at least I can be confident that the various standard colours I use through the presentation match, and that there is a consistent use of fonts on every slide.
As for individual slides, the smallest font you should ever use is 24pt, with most text being 32pt and titles even larger. Do not mix lots of different fonts throughout your presentation, two fonts should be sufficient. See the Fonts entry for more advice on your choice of fonts.
Try to have just one concept for every slide. If you have 5 points to make, rather than having 5 bullet points, have five different slides, each one with a descriptive and appropriate image. See my related article on Bullet Points.
My one final point on design concerns animation. Animation should only be used if it actively contributes towards the meaning of the slide. In particular don’t use the spurious animation techniques PowerPoint provides to move from one slide to the next.