woman talking at meeting

How often have you squinted at a PowerPoint slide trying to make out tiny print? Or zoned out on what the speaker was saying because they were simply reading from their slides? Creating an effective PowerPoint slide deck will enhance your presentation and keep your audience engaged.

Before you start creating your slides, answering a few basic questions can help you make important decisions:

  • Who is the audience? Knowing this enables you to tailor your message. Will the audience require definitions of jargon, or are they comfortable with the language of your craft?
  • What is the purpose? Why are you presenting the information? Do you need to persuade the audience? Inform them about new ideas or products? Answers to these questions will help you determine what information to include.

There are also three prongs to appealing to your audience, called the rhetorical triangle, which are worth considering:

  • Ethos–the establishment of credibility. Build ethos by being accurate in the information you provide, by citing reputable sources, and by establishing your own expertise.
  • Logos–the logic of your presentation. Use logos by ensuring that your presentation follows a common-sense order that brings the audience to the conclusions you’re heading towards.
  • Pathos–the appeal to emotion. Don’t think of overwrought emotion here. Instead, consider what you want your audience to feel as they listen to your presentation: Excitement about a new product? Joy in the beauty of your craft? Curiosity about a cutting-edge technique?

So how do these relate to making an effective PowerPoint slide deck for your presentation? Seth Godin, marketing guru, developed sensible rules for PowerPoint. After years of using and teaching his rules, I’m a disciple. Let’s see how they work to establish ethos, logos, and pathos.

This slide has way too many words on it!

Try presenting the same information this way instead.

Tip #1: Never use more than six words per slide. That’s right. Six. Words. The six-word rule helps you build ethos because it prevents you from reading from the slide (use note cards instead and practice your presentation so you don’t need to rely on them), which demonstrates your authority over the subject and allows you to connect with the audience. It also helps the audience to stay focused on you and your presentation rather than using their attention to read lengthy slides. Remember: the audience is there to hear your presentation, not to read it.

Tip #2: Choose images over words. Even better than words on a slide is a strong image. Images can provide an immediate connection to emotions (pathos) as well as illustrate points more clearly. Use apps like Snapseed or Pic Monkey to crop, brighten, or annotate your photos. Be sure the images you select reflect the aesthetic of your business or product.

Tip #3: Reinforce, don’t repeat. Your presentation software is designed to add value to the audience’s experience–in other words, the slides are to help your audience understand your topic better. Ensure that the content isn’t repeating what you’re saying, but that it is reinforcing ideas through images or varied language, which builds the appeal to logos.

Tip #4: Don’t use bullets. Just as putting too many words on a slide distracts the audience, a long list of bullets does the same. Instead, give each item you would have bulleted its own slide. That will assist the audience as you transition from idea to idea and keep them engaged.

Tip #5: Avoid fancy footwork. PowerPoint offers a plethora of cool tools, but before you add animation, fades, or spinning text, ask yourself what purpose they have in your presentation. Most often, they simply distract from the strength of your content.

Tip #6: Use handouts, but not a copy of the slide deck. Without your presentation, the slide deck can’t stand on its own. Instead, create handouts that give the audience members the most pertinent information about the product or service; offer definitions, testimonials, or timelines; or detail techniques and provide resources.

Breaking free from “jam-crammed” PowerPoint slides allows you to harness the real points of power in your presentation: your knowledge, skills, and expertise, and your connection with the audience.


Beverly Army Williams is a writer and writing teacher, teaching creative writing, composition, grant writing, and business and technical writing at Westfield State University. Her writing has appeared in Knitty.com, Interweave Crochet, Dandelion Review, and Project 333 among other places, and she co-edits the webzine MotherShould.com. Beverly works as a ghost writer and writing consultant for makers and creative writers. She has been co-teaching nationally with Gale Zucker about the partnership of beautiful words and dynamic images since 2013. Beverly’s website is www.beverlyarmywilliams.com.

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