how to save slides so they'll work on anything

An Alternative to Seth Godin's 5 Rules to create amazing PowerPoint Presentations


Seth Godin is a very influential man, and his views on PowerPoint carry a lot of weight. He wrote a famous post a while back (1.5k Facebook shares, a gazillion tweets about it etc) on creating amazing presentations - you can read it here. I agree with lots of it completely, but I'm not totally on board with the five rules at the end.

My take on Seth's rules

My take on Seth's rules

No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken. To me this seems too arbitrary. Fewer words is without doubt better than more words when it comes to slides - they're presentation tools not written documents. But six? As the maximum ever? Unless that's based on research that shows seven or more words reduces the effectiveness of your PowerPoint, why limit yourself in such an extreme way? I'd say one or two sentences to ensure brevity but allow yourself a little flexibility in conveying meaning and nuance.

No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images. First of all there are plenty of cheesy professional stock photos! Authenticity is key. The trick is to find images which look like the camera has happened upon a real scene - lots of pro stock images show impossibly perfect people laughing flirtatiously over a blank iPad, I mean come on. I find Pixabay and Unsplash have enough for most presentations I make, plus someone introduced me to Pexels the other day which looks good, and they're all free - both of copyright and financial cost. The professional stock photo sites cost a fortune to use - why use them when so many great (legal) images can be found for free?

No dissolves, spins or other transitions. Yup. No argument here. If it's extraneous to your story, all you're doing is reducing the impact of your message.

Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running. I like the idea about using music etc but it really needs a certain type of high energy presentation performance to pull this off. It's not for everybody (I couldn't do it). It's hard to think of a rule around sound that is absolute; it all depends on your audience, and some of them way think the use of music is a little distracting, whatever your music taste... From what I understand about the Proustian effect it's a very personal thing; I'm not sure a presenter could expect to cause or induce it for a room full of people. 

Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there. I agree with this. But I wouldn't put it in my top 5...

Header pic is a CC-BY image by  Betsyweber  - clcik to view original on Flickr.

Header pic is a CC-BY image by Betsyweber - clcik to view original on Flickr.


My own top 5 rules for creating effective PowerPoint slides

So what would I put in my top 5 rules for creating amazing PowerPoint presentations? I can answer that question because the intro to my full-day Presentation Skills training is built around five golden rules, based on existing research into what makes for an effective presentations - and that's the aim here, to build something which works. 'Amazing' is no good on its own; you need people to remember your key messages, not just how great a presenter you were.

Here we go:

  1. Keep it simple. Slides don't need to be flash - get rid of anything that doesn't tell your specific story, and leave behind something which supports and reinforces what you're saying out loud, and prompts you as to what to say next.
  2. No more bullets. Bullet points ruin slides. They're fine for documents, but you're not making a document in PowerPoint. As well as being symptomatic of a general Death By PowerPoint malaise, they make people less likely to agree with, understand and remember your presentation. Oh and they like you less when you use them. That's enough of a reason to never use them, surely?
  3. Make one point per slide. Make your point, allow your audience to digest it, then move on together in sync with them. Several points on a slide inevitably result in your audience moving at a different pace to you, because they can only listen and read for a few short seconds. Why be in conflict with your presentation materials when you don't have to? Give each key message room to breathe.
  4. Big fresh fonts. Font size 24 is the absolute minimum you should ever use in slides. If you need more you're trying to fit too much on one slide. Either ditch some text or cascade it across two slides. Non-standard fonts (which is to say, fonts which don't appear in the Office Suite) can, if chosen carefully, increase the impact of your presentation. Typography is underrated.
  5. More images, less text. Too much text stops slides working. Relevant images help people learn. Make the most of your opportunity with each new PowerPoint you make!

A file-format decision tree for saving PowerPoint presentations


So which file format is best for saving your slides? It depends on the situation, but it's almost never the default .pptx you're offered. I made a little graphic below to act as a decision tree for choosing how to save your PowerPoint - click on it to be taken to a larger CC-BY-SA version on Flickr.

What it comes down to is this. Saving your slides as a .ppsx file - a PowerPoint Show - is usually the best option, because it opens the PPT up in Presentation View right away. This looks SO much more professional than the default .pptx PowerPoint file, which opens in edit view, revealing your notes if you have them, and the first few slides. Your audience seeing behind the curtain in this way isn't the end of the world, but why do anything to reduce the impact of the presentation you spent ages creating?

A .ppsx file will keep any animations you have in your slides (and embedded video and audio) and unlike a PDF it won't compress your images, so they'll remain high quality. 

However, sometimes you need to use a PDF - mainly when you've used non-standard fonts. PowerPoint claims to be able to embed fonts that aren't included in the Office Suite (but which you download yourself) so they'll work on other PCs - I've found this to be lies, lies, and more lies... It simply won't work - either for presenting on another PC, or for uploading to Slideshare. So saving as a PDF sorts this out - it retains your exciting font choices, and keeps things the right size and shape (you may have to go into the Save Options and untick the ISO box if your PDF doesn't behave itself the first time you save it - for example if Transparency effects aren't correctly rendered).

I also use PDF if the PC I'm presenting on has a different version of PowerPoint to the one I made the slides on - or if I don't know ahead of time whether it will. The version of PowerPoint shouldn't matter but it does, and the other day I had to subtly reformat a whole slide-deck after checking it on the latest version of Office and finding it had mucked around with the font-size for no good reason.

PDFs are the safe option. They work on pretty much ANYTHING. Lots of people never present with PDFs because it simply never occurs to them, but trust me it works fine! I do it 99% of the time because 99% of the time I use non-standard fonts - just click View then Fullscreen Mode and it works exactly like a PowerPoint in Presentation View (including using a clicker to move the slides along).

(There have been a couple of occasions where I've forgotten to do this, and turned up with a regular PowerPoint file to present on a machine with none of my special fonts installed. This has resulted in frantic downloading and rediting and saving in a panic, and is not recommended...)

NB: Never ONLY save your slides as PDF or PowerPoint Show - you need the .pptx file to actually come back and edit them later.

So next time you're saving your file, check if you really need to use .pptx, or whether another format is more appropriate.