Creating a great PowerPoint presentation is a skill that any professional can benefit from. The problem? It’s really easy to get it wrong. From poor color choices to confusing slides, a bad PowerPoint slideshow can distract from the fantastic content you’re sharing with stakeholders on your team.
That’s why it’s so important to learn how to create a PowerPoint presentation from the ground up, starting with your slides. Even if you’re familiar with PowerPoint, a refresher will help you make a more attractive, professional slideshow. Let’s get started.
I like to think of Microsoft PowerPoint as a test of basic professional skills. To create a passing presentation, I need to demonstrate design skills, technical literacy, and a sense of personal style.
If the presentation has a problem (like an unintended font, a broken link, or unreadable text), then I’ve probably failed the test. Even if my spoken presentation is well rehearsed, a bad visual experience can ruin it for the audience.
No matter your topic, successful PowerPoints depend on three main factors: your command of PowerPoint’s design tools, your attention to presentation processes, and your devotion to consistent style. Here are some simple tips to help you start mastering each of those factors, and don’t forget to check out the additional resources at the bottom of this post.
How to Make a PowerPoint Presentation
A presentation is made up of multiple slides, let’s delve deeper into PowerPoint’s capabilities.
1. Open PowerPoint and click ‘New.’
If a page with templates doesn‘t automatically open, go to the top left pane of your screen and click New. If you’ve already created a presentation, select Open then double-click the icon to open the existing file.
2. Choose a theme or create your own.
Microsoft offers built-in themes and color variations to help you design your slides with a cohesive look. To choose from these pre-built themes, choose the File tab again, select New, choose one of the options, and click Create. There is also an option to select a blank presentation if you prefer not to add one.
Otherwise, you can use PowerPoint elements, your design sense, and your brand’s color palette to make your own “theme.”
Creating PowerPoint Slides
3. Insert a slide.
Insert a new slide by clicking on the Home tab and then the New Slide button. Consider what content you want to put on the slide, including heading, text, and imagery.
Consider what content you want to put on the slide, including heading, text, and imagery.
4. Create a variety of slides for different purposes.
You don‘t want to present the same exact slide, only with different content on it. This would bore your audience. Ensure that you create multiple variations, accommodating some of the common uses for slides. At minimum, you’ll need:
- A title slide
- An agenda or table of contents slide
- A slide that introduces the speaker
- Various content slides (create different layouts considering what kind of multimedia you’ll use)
5. Use the Duplicate Slides feature to save you time.
There‘s no reason to create these designs over and over again. Now that you have a few to draw from, you can simply duplicate them before inputting your content. Here’s how to do that:
- On the left pane, right-click the thumbnail of the slide you want to duplicate.
- Choose Duplicate Slide from the pop-up menu.
This will automatically add a copy of this slide to the presentation. From there, you can customize it for your needs.
6. Add photos to your slide
Add images by clicking Insert and clicking the Pictures icon. Additionally, you can add other elements by using features in the Home and Insert tabs on the top ribbon. Play around with the layout by dragging elements around with your mouse.
7. Add transitions to your slides (optional).
Done well, transitions can add a little bit of movement and showmanship to your presentation. PowerPoint has several transitions built in for you to choose from.
To access them, select the Transitions tab from the top ribbon. From there, you can select a transition for it to preview on your screen. To customize it further, click Effect Options and play with the features to find something that suits your liking. To remove a transition, select Transitions and click None.
8. Add animations to your slides (optional).
Like transitions, animations can add movement, reveal information, and help you underscore the points you want to hit during your speech. To animate an element, follow these steps:
- Select the element you want animated by clicking on it.
- Choose Animations from the top ribbon.
- You’ll have the option to choose from several effects displayed in the ribbon.
- Clicking on one will give you a preview.
- To customize the animation, select Effect Options.
- To remove an animation, click None in the ribbon.
Some of the ways to customize animations include:
- On Click
- With Previous
- After Previous
These describe how you want the effect to behave, so play around with them until you find an effect that suits your liking.
You’ll also have the option to move animations around as you edit your slides by clicking on the Animation Pane button, then reordering the animations in the list that pops up.
Finishing Up Your Presentation
9. Save your presentation.
Click File and Save, making sure to specify which folder or destination you want your PowerPoint to be stored. If you’re using your slides for education or teaching, it could be beneficial to convert your presentation to an online course.
10. Run your presentation.
It’s always good to do a trial run to ensure that your slides are set up properly and your animations fire the way you expect them to.
To present your PowerPoint, go to the Slide Show tab and click Play from Start. The slide will cover your whole screen, blocking out your desktop and PowerPoint software. This is so your audience (in this case, you for the trial run) is solely focused on the visual elements of your presentation.
11. Advance the slides.
When you’re done with one slide and want to show the next in your sequence, click your mouse in presentation mode. This will advance the slide.
1. Don’t let PowerPoint decide how you use PowerPoint.
Microsoft wanted to provide PowerPoint users with a lot of tools. But this does not mean you should use them all. Here are some key things to look out for:
- Make sure that the preset PPT themes complement your needs before you adopt them.
- Try to get away from using Microsoft Office’s default fonts, Calibri and Cambria. Using these two typefaces can make the presentation seem underwhelming.
- Professionals should never use PPT’s action sounds. (Please consider your audience above personal preference).
- PowerPoint makes bulleting automatic, but ask yourself: Are bullets actually appropriate for what you need to do? Sometimes they are, but not always.
- Recent PPT defaults include a small shadow on all shapes. Remove this shadow if it’s not actually needed. Also, don’t leave shapes in their default blue.
2. Create custom slide sizes.
While you usually can get away with the default slide size for most presentations, you may need to adjust it for larger presentations on weirdly sized displays. If you need to do that, here’s how.
- In the top-left corner, choose File.
- Select Page Setup.
- Type the height and width of the background you’d like, and click OK.
- A dialogue box will appear. Click Scale if you want to also resize your content, or Don’t Scale if you don’t. We recommend clicking Don’t Scale, then manually adjusting minor layout issues.
Tip: You can avoid a headache with the last step if you resize your slides before you add any objects to them. Otherwise, the dimensions of your objects will become skewed.
3. Edit your slide template design.
Often, it’s much easier to edit your PowerPoint template before you start — this way, you don’t have to design each slide by hand. Here’s how you do that.
- Select View in the top navigation.
- Click Master.
- In the drop-down, click Slide Master.
- Make any changes you like, then click Close Master in the top ribbon. All current and future slides in that presentation will use that template.
4. Write text with your audience in mind.
A significant part of a PowerPoint’s content is text. Great copy can make or break your presentation, so evaluating your written work from a few different angles could make you seem more persuasive. Keep the amount of text under 6-8 lines (or 30 words) at a minimum of size 24 pt. Thinking about how your text is received differentiates good presenters from the best.
Many people underestimate the influence of typeface, but choosing the right font is important — the perception of your font type could influence your audience’s impression of you. The right font is an opportunity to convey consistent brand personality and professionalism.
Some fonts are seen as clean and professional, but this doesn’t mean they’re boring. A common mistake is thinking your font isn’t “exciting” enough, which could lead you to choose a font that distracts from your overall message. We recommend sticking to simple serif and sans-serif fonts. Avoid script fonts because of potential readability issues.
That said, you can still use fun and eccentric fonts — in moderation. Offsetting a fun font or large letters with something more professional can create an engaging presentation.
Above all, be sure you’re consistent so your presentation looks the same throughout each slide. That way, your audience doesn’t become distracted by too many disparate fonts. Check out this example from HubSpot’s company profile templates:
5. Make sure all of your objects are properly aligned.
Having properly aligned objects on your slide is the key to making it look polished and professional. You can manually try to line up your images … but we all know how that typically works out. You’re trying to make sure all of your objects hang out in the middle of your slide, but when you drag them there, it still doesn’t look quite right. Get rid of your guessing game and let PowerPoint work its magic with this trick.
Here’s how to align multiple objects:
- Select all objects by holding down Shift and clicking on all of them.
- Select Arrange in the top options bar, then choose Align or Distribute.
- Choose the type of alignment you’d like.
Here’s how to align objects to the slide:
- Select all objects by holding down Shift and clicking on all of them.
- Select Arrange in the top options bar, then choose Align or Distribute.
- Select Align to Slide.
- Select Arrange in the top options bar again, then choose Align or Distribute.
- Choose the type of alignment you’d like.
6. Use “Format Object” to better control your objects’ designs.
Format menus allow you to do fine adjustments that otherwise seem impossible. To do this, right-click on an object and select the Format Object option. Here, you can fine-tune shadows, adjust shape measurements, create reflections, and much more. The menu that will pop up looks like this:
Although the main options can be found on PowerPoint’s format toolbars, look for complete control in the format window menu. Other examples of options available include:
- Adjusting text inside a shape.
- Creating a natural perspective shadow behind an object.
- Recoloring photos manually and with automatic options.
7. Take advantage of PowerPoint’s shapes.
Many users don’t realize how flexible PowerPoint’s shape tools have become. In combination with the expanded format options released by Microsoft, the potential for good design with shapes is readily available. PowerPoint provides the user with a bunch of great shape options beyond the traditional rectangle, oval, and rounded rectangle patterns.
Today’s shapes include a highly functional Smart Shapes function, which enables you to create diagrams and flow charts in no time. These tools are especially valuable when you consider that PowerPoint is a visual medium. Paragraphing and bullet lists are boring — you can use shapes to help express your message more clearly.
8. Create custom shapes.
When you create a shape, right click and press Edit Points. By editing points, you can create custom shapes that fit your specific need. For instance, you can reshape arrows to fit the dimensions you like.
Another option is to combine two shapes together. To do so, select the two shapes you’d like to work with, then click Shape Format in the top ribbon. Tap Merge Shapes.
You’ll see a variety of options.
- Combine creates a custom shape that has overlapping portions of the two previous shapes cut out.
- Union makes one completely merged shape.
- Intersect builds a shape of only the overlapping sections of the two previous shapes.
- Subtract cuts out the overlapping portion of one shape from the other.
- Fragment will split your shape into different parts depending on where they overlap.
By using these tools rather than trying to edit points precisely, you can create accurately measured custom shapes.
9. Crop images into custom shapes.
Besides creating custom shapes in your presentation, you can also use PowerPoint to crop existing images into new shapes. Here’s how you do that:
- Click on the image and select Picture Format in the options bar.
- Choose Crop, then Crop to Shape, and then choose your desired shape. Ta-da! Custom-shaped photos.
10. Present websites within PowerPoint.
Tradition says that if you want to show a website in a PowerPoint, you should just create a link to the page and prompt a browser to open. For PC users, there’s a better option.
Third party software that integrates fully into PowerPoint’s developer tab can be used to embed a website directly into your PowerPoint using a normal HTML iframe. One of the best tools is LiveWeb, a third-party software that you can install on your PowerPoint program.
By using LiveWeb, you don’t have to interrupt your PowerPoint, and your presentation will remain fluid and natural. Whether you embed a whole webpage or just a YouTube video, this can be a high-quality third party improvement. To install the add-on, simple head to the LiveWeb website and follow the instructions.
Unfortunately, Mac users don’t have a similar option. A good second choice is to take screenshots of the website, link in through a browser, or embed media (such as a YouTube video) by downloading it directly to your computer.
11. Try Using GIFs.
GIFs are looped animated images used to communicate a mood, idea, information, and much more. Users add GIFs to PowerPoints to be funny or quickly demo a process. It’s easy to add GIFs to your slides. To do so, simply follow these steps:
- Download and save the GIF you want.
- Go to the slide you want the GIF on.
- Go to the Home tab, and click either Insert or Picture.
- From the Picture drop-down menu, choose Picture from File.
- Navigate to where you saved your GIF and select it. Then, choose Insert.
- It will play automatically the moment you insert it.
12. Keep it simple.
PowerPoint is an excellent tool to support your presentation with visual information, graphics, and supplemental points. This means that your PowerPoint should not be your entire presentation. Your slides — no matter how creative and beautiful — shouldn’t be the star of the show. Keep your text and images clear and concise, using them only to supplement your message and authority.
If your slides have dense and cluttered information, it will both distract your audience and make it much more likely that you will lose their attention. Nothing in your slides should be superfluous! Keep your presentation persuasive by keeping it clean. There are a few ways to do this:
- Limit bullet points and text.
- Avoid paragraphs and long quotes.
- Maintain “white space” or “negative space”.
- Keep percentages, graphs, and data super basic.
13. Embed your font files.
One constant problem presenters have with PowerPoint is that fonts seem to change when presenters move from one computer to another. In reality, the fonts are not changing — the presentation computer just doesn’t have the same font files installed. If you’re using a PC and presenting on a PC, then there is a smooth workaround for this issue.
Here’s the trick: When you save your PowerPoint file (only on a PC), you should click File, then Options, then open up the Save tab. Then, select the Embed fonts in the file check box under Preserve fidelity when sharing this presentation. Now, your presentation will keep the font file and your fonts will not change when you move computers.
The macOS PowerPoint version has a similar function. To embed your fonts on a Mac, do the following:
- Open up your presentation.
- On the top bar, click PowerPoint, then click Preferences.
- Under Output and Sharing, click Save.
- Under Font Embedding, click Embed fonts in the file.
14. Save your slides as a PDF file for backup purposes.
If you’re still scared of your presentation showing up differently when it’s time to present, you should create a PDF version just in case. This is a good option if you’ll be presenting on a different computer. If you also run into an issue where the presenting computer doesn’t have PowerPoint installed, you can also use the system viewer to open up the PDF. No laptop will ever give you trouble with this file type.
The only caveat is that your GIFs, animations, and transitions won’t transfer over. But since the PDF will only work as a backup, not as your primary copy, this should be okay.
To save your presentation as a PDF file, take the following steps:
- Go to File, then click Save as …
- In the pop-up window, click File Format.
- A drop-down menu will appear. Select PDF.
- Click Export.
You can also go to File, then Export, then select PDF from the file format menu.
15. Embed multimedia.
PowerPoint allows you to either link to video/audio files externally or to embed the media directly in your presentation. You should embed these files if you can, but if you use a Mac, you cannot actually embed the video (see note below). For PCs, two great reasons for embedding are:
- Embedding allows you to play media directly in your presentation. It will look much more professional than switching between windows.
- Embedding also means that the file stays within the PowerPoint presentation, so it should play normally without extra work (except on a Mac).
Note: macOS users of PowerPoint should be extra careful about using multimedia files.
If you use PowerPoint for Mac, then you will always need to bring the video and/or audio file with you in the same folder as the PowerPoint presentation. It’s best to only insert video or audio files once the presentation and the containing folder have been saved on a portable drive in their permanent folder. Also, if the presentation will be played on a Windows computer, then Mac users need to make sure their multimedia files are in WMV format. This tip gets a bit complicated, so if you want to use PowerPoint effectively, consider using the same operating system for designing and presenting, no matter what.
16. Bring your own hardware.
Between operating systems, PowerPoint is still a bit jumpy. Even between differing PPT versions, things can change. One way to fix these problems is to make sure that you have the right hardware — so just bring along your own laptop when you’re presenting.
If you’re super concerned about the different systems you might have to use, then upload your PowerPoint presentation into Google Slides as a backup option. Google Slides is a cloud-based presentation software that will show up the same way on all operating systems. The only thing you need is an internet connection and a browser.
To import your PowerPoint presentation into Google Slides, take the following steps:
- Navigate to slides.google.com. Make sure you’re signed in to a Google account, preferably your own.
- Under Start a new presentation, click the empty box with a plus sign. This will open up a blank presentation.
- Go to File, then Import slides.
- A dialog box will come up. Tap Upload, then click Select a file from your device.
- Select your presentation and click Open.
- Select the slides you’d like to import. If you want to import all of them, click All in the upper right-hand corner of the dialog box.
- Click Import slides.
When I tested this out, Google Slides imported everything perfectly, including a shape whose points I had manipulated. This is a good backup option to have if you’ll be presenting across different operating systems.
17. Use Presenter View.
In most presentation situations, there will be both a presenter’s screen and the main projected display for your presentation. PowerPoint has a great tool called Presenter View, which can be found in the Slide Show tab of PowerPoint. Included in the Presenter View is an area for notes, a timer/clock, and a presentation display.
For many presenters, this tool can help unify their spoken presentation and their visual aid. You never want to make the PowerPoint seem like a stack of notes that you’re reading off of. Use the Presenter View option to help create a more natural presentation.
Pro Tip: At the start of the presentation, you should also hit CTRL + H to make the cursor disappear. Hitting the “A” key will bring it back if you need it!
Your Next Great PowerPoint Presentation Starts Here
With style, design, and presentation processes under your belt, you can do a lot more with PowerPoint than just presentations for your clients. PowerPoint and similar slide applications are flexible tools that should not be forgotten. With a great template, you can be on your way to creating presentations that wow your audience.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.