Essential PowerPoint Skills Everyone Needs, Especially Working from Home

Essential PowerPoint Skills Everyone Needs, Especially Working from Home

Created: Wednesday, May 27, 2020 posted by at 9:30 am

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By Chuck Henrich, Director, Octantus Associates

The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that we all need to be more resilient and self-sufficient. Millions of us have found ourselves working from home without our normal in-office comforts. Many professional services firms have furloughed support staff. Even if a firm keeps its support staff on call, they’re not physically in the same place as the professionals they assist—they’re both working from home. Your team’s PowerPoint specialist may have been laid off. Well, here’s some good news: fending for ourselves is pretty easy with the right skills and tools. Essential PowerPoint skills in particular make life easier and result in more persuasive presentations.

Basic skills are simple

Most people get little or no training in how to use PowerPoint properly so they end up doing things the hard way. That’s true for design professionals, marketing teams, lawyers, accountants, consultants, executives, as well as their assistants.

These basic skills will reduce the time and effort involved in PowerPoint:

  • Understand what kind of PowerPoint you’re creating
  • Use a template
  • Format using master slides
  • Use placeholders properly
  • Apply fonts and colors sparingly
  • Keep an eye on speaker notes
  • Take advantage of different views and display modes
  • Keep it simple!

What are you creating, a presentation or a document?

The most important skill in PowerPoint is to decide the purpose of the slide deck. That basic decision will affect everything you include in a slide deck.

Who is my audience? How will they see my document? Ask yourself those questions, then adapt your content to the answers.
Frederik Dessau, SkabelonDesign

PowerPoint started as a presentation tool to create slide decks destined for display while someone talks. Increasingly people now use PowerPoint instead of Word when creating documentation. Those docu-decks take a more visual approach to communicate information than traditional text-heavy Word documents.

A presentation should contain much less text and a lot more white space because your audience will see the slides from far away—they won’t be able to read the tiny print. On the other hand, people will likely read a docu-deck on their screen or in a printout, so it can contain more text and complicated layouts.

Start with a good template

Every PowerPoint starts with an underlying template that defines the fonts, colors, and layouts available to you. A solid, well-designed template is essential. Learn more in the PowerPoint Templates: Build or Buy? post.

A good template provides all the pre-defined building blocks you need. Let the template handle layout and design so you can concentrate on the content.

Master slides for global changes

Behind every slide is a “master slide” that controls the layout for that type of slide. You can change any slide’s layout manually. But if you need to make a global formatting change affecting all slides of a particular type, you should modify the master slide instead of changing each slide in your deck individually.

You can view and edit master slides in PowerPoint from the View tab: View | Master Views | Slide Master.

Use placeholders properly

Using master layouts properly makes PowerPoint so much easier. The placeholders in your template’s layouts save clicks and help you position things correctly. So don’t ignore them, they’re your friends!
– Stephan Kuhnert, empower

Placeholders are pre-formatted containers for text, graphics, and video. You can recognize them by the icons that appear when they’re empty:

PowerPoint placeholder

PowerPoint placeholder

When you see a placeholder on a slide layout, use it. Those icon buttons save time and clicks and help ensure that the content appears on the slide where it’s supposed to. Every PowerPoint training should emphasize how helpful placeholders can be.

Apply fonts and colors sparingly

Placeholders define your slides’ fonts and colors for you. Resist the temptation to “entertain” with fonts and colors. Don’t change font types/sizes or colors for text or placeholders unless you have a specific reason and good design sense. Your audience should pay attention to your message, not how it looks.

Discipline your colors. When you want to focus your audience’s attention, use your primary color to catch their eyes. We call it highlighting and lowlighting.
Frederik Dessau, SkabelonDesign

Read your speaker notes, not your slides

Slides help the audience remember the main points of your presentation. Audiences hate when a presenter reads their own slides.  For presentations, use speaker notes as your script, and slides to illustrate it.

Also, be sure to check the speaker notes pane when sharing any PowerPoint slide deck to make sure the notes are appropriate (View > Notes on the PowerPoint ribbon). You don’t want to share speaker notes unnecessarily.

Display modes

At the lower right-hand corner of the PowerPoint window, you can choose five display modes (Notes, Normal, Slide Sorter, Reading View, Slide Show). Most people work in Normal view and present in Slide Show view. But Reading View is a better choice if you need to switch between applications during a presentation, like in software demos. Reading View keeps the Windows taskbar visible, so you can switch with a click.

Presenter View complements speaker notes: on the presenter’s laptop it displays the current slide and its notes, along with a view of the upcoming slide. But the screen the audience sees displays only the current slide.

Here’s what the presenter sees in Presenter View:

PowerPoint Presenter view

PowerPoint Presenter view

And here’s what the audience sees:

PowerPoint Presenter view what audience sees

PowerPoint Presenter view what audience sees

Some online meeting platforms support Presenter View, some don’t. So, practice with Presenter View before going live.

Keep it simple

Less is more—the less time you spend playing around, the more time you gain to hone your content.

Use minimal text and bullets and choose your images/icons carefully. Stick to a simple, brand-compliant design throughout to convey a message of elegance and confidence. Lots of uncoordinated layouts and graphics can be fun but unfortunately create an unprofessional impression.

Transitions and animations risk your audience paying more attention to special effects than your message. Only use transitions and animations to support your story. Use at most just one or two types of transitions/animations and specific types of transitions/animations for different types of slides (for example, fade to each new section, and push for slides within a section).

How to skill up

With just a few key skills, anyone can work effectively and efficiently in PowerPoint. Lots of training material is available on the Internet. The LTC4 non-profit organization helps lawyers and law firms in particular skill-up on technologies, including PowerPoint. While LTC4 focuses on lawyers, their curriculums and certifications will help anyone.

Working from home, without the support you’re used to having in the office, means you must be much more self-reliant. Seek out training now! Basic skills are more important than ever.
– Joanne Humber, Humber Associates/Octantus Associates and

PowerPoint add-ins can help, especially if they support good design standards. Several of the best-integrated, best-practice solutions are empower® slides from empower, SlideProof and ProductivityPlus from Templafy, and EssentialTools for PowerPoint from SkabelonDesign.

Do you have anything to add? Any basic, essential skills everyone should have under their belt? Let us know!

Chuck Henrich

Chuck Henrich
Chuck Henrich helps professional firms deliver higher quality client service more efficiently through his tech consultancy Octantus Associates. He advises, builds business cases around, and implements improved business processes, working practices, and technology.

People come first, then tech.

Effective technologies, thoughtfully designed and implemented, enable people to focus on what matters—developing and editing content more easily, communicating securely, cultivating their relationships … working smarter, not harder, and enjoying a better quality of life.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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