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Technology - Presentations: Getting your (power) point across

When making a presentation, the facts will tell the story — but how the facts are presented makes a big difference to how well your message will be heard. Let’s take a look at some simple tips to improve the look of your documents. 
I’ve stuck to Microsoft Office for Windows; however, the same tips apply to Office for Mac, although specific commands will be slightly different.

It’s not necessary to add bells and whistles, fancy fonts and garish colours — or Clip Art — and, in fact, the subtler changes are much more useful.

Some of the time you’ll be making documents that need to fit a corporate or departmental template. If that’s the case, you may not have much choice about design but there are still some things you can do.

Slides packed with information are probably the biggest PowerPoint ‘crime’, so put as little on your slides as possible. Bullet points — three per slide, with small amounts of big text — will focus your listeners’ attention on what you’re going to say, but they won’t be reading it off the screen before you do. If you need to disseminate reams of information, it’s better done on paper or electronically after you’ve finished speaking.

Your choice of font — in any document or presentation — is important. Unless it’s mandated, do not use Times New Roman or Arial. The default fonts in Office 2007 onwards — which all begin with a C, such as Calibri — are much better. If your document has to go online, use Garamond or Verdana, but otherwise try a different font — nothing outlandish, but a pleasant, businesslike font such as Franklin Gothic will make everything more readable.

Graphs and charts should, again, be big and bold. Be aware of the size of the room in which you’ll be presentingx and the size of the screen, and make the text appropriately large. If your audience can’t read your graph’s legend, they won’t get what you’re saying.

The common office tool for chart-making is Excel, which has been hugely improved in Office 2007 and 2010. If you’re stuck with Office 2003, though, you don’t have to 
put up with its garish, blocky graphs. 
Simply changing the colours Excel uses for graphs will make a small but important difference to how good your presentation will look. There’s a useful tutorial on colours in Excel 2003 online 
(www.snipca.com/X4325). It’s also good to tone down or remove the background and lines that Excel adds to its charts (a light grey is a good choice) — right-click any line or the background and choose format…, then select a new colour. Changing the 
font used in the chart to one of the 
Office 2007 ones (such as Calibri) will 
make a surprisingly big difference too, although you will need to change each 
text element individually.

Don’t fill the page or slide — documents with plenty of white space are easier to read and more eye-catching.

Steer clear of Office’s emphasis tools — underlining text just makes it look untidy, for instance. Bold and italic text should be used sparingly, and don’t use more than two fonts for a single document. Most will be fine in one font with two sizes: for headings and for body text.

If you’re using Office 2007 or 2010, you already have a powerful new tool at your fingertips called Themes. You can select a theme that applies to the entire document, which guides the colours and fonts you use. You can select others, but the ones within the theme have been designed to look good together. Themes apply across Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even Outlook. To select a theme in Word or Excel, go to the Page Layout tab in the ‘Ribbon’ at the top of the screen, click the word Themes on the left and move your mouse over the options that appear. You’ll see the text font change, as will any colours you’ve added.

Of course, the substance of your document is always more important than the style, but these style tips should help give your audience a better understanding of your message.

Anthony DhanendranAnthony Dhanendran is the reviews editor of ComputerActive