How To (and How Not To) Use PowerPoint – Video and Notes

This is a presentation about how to use PowerPoint effectively and some common pitfalls to avoid. Some of this advice applies to other presentation technologies like Google Slides, but I’ll be sharing technical tips specific to PowerPoint.

We should start by understanding there are good reasons not to do a computer slideshow. Technology can fail you at the worst possible moment and often does. As a guest speaker, you may find that the projector doesn’t have the right plug to fit your computer. If your slides are important, make sure you’re clear on whether your host wants you to use your computer or theirs – and if they want you to use theirs, I would still bring my own laptop as a backup. Show up early and test everything so you know if you have a problem and have time to solve it.

On the other hand, Club Awesome members often come to me saying, “I just want to show a few pictures” or “just project this document on the screen and scroll down for me.” In those situations, you would make yourself look better by organizing the information in a PowerPoint deck and advancing through it with a handheld clicker.

A speaker should know how to use PowerPoint, but make sure you are using it to enhance your speech. If you don’t make it work for you, it’s likely to work against you.

Related: Create Simple Videos Using PowerPoint

One strong temptation is to use PowerPoint as a crutch, an electronic outline to remind yourself of what you want to say. If you’re reading your slides, what value are you adding for your audience beyond the message you could have delivered in an email. If you have complicated to information to share, create a handout. The handout can parallel the information you present live, but a printout of your slides is often the least effective handout you can provide. Design reading material to be read, but make your slides part of the experience you are delivering.

If you need to share web links — particularly long, complicated web addresses — put that in a follow up email or a blog post where people can click rather than click on the links rather than typing them. Sharing a very simple web address (or Twitter handle) on screen is different, if you can use that as a gateway to the richer information you want to share.

More on Resizing and Cropping Images

If my tips on resizing and cropping images go by too fast for you in the video, check out this blog post by the author of a book on PowerPoint.

The basic point I’d like to get across is the difference between resizing images which you do by clicking and dragging on the corners of the image and cropping images, which means you’re cutting away parts of the image that you don’t want to be displayed.

Resizing is the default when you click on an image, you can click and drag to reposition it. The resizing “handles” that look like little bubbles will be displayed at the corners of the image.

To resize images proportionally, put your mouse on the corner handles before you click and drag.

DANGER: Beware of stretching or squishing images, which can be easy to do if you drag the resizing handles from the top, bottom, or either side.

Resize, don’t squish or stretch

One way to switch to cropping mode is to right click on the image and choose Crop from the menu that pops up.

Choosing crop mode
Square crop handles

In cropping mode, the handles at the edge of the issue turn into square angles that you drag toward the center of the image from the top, bottom, left and right until you get the shape you want.

Menus and Toolbars

Although the programmers behind PowerPoint try to divine your intentions and helpfully present the right menus and options, sometimes you have to hunt for them.

Here are a few key menus to know your way around.

The insert menu for pictures but also text boxes and drawing objects.

When you select a picture, you should see a “Picture Tools” menu under “Format” — but if it’s not immediately displayed, you may have to click on the Picture Tools menu that’s displayed over the word “Format.”

Notice that this Picture Tools button bar also includes a Crop option, with more options than were shown when I right clicked on an image. For example, “Crop to Shape” will let you crop an image to a star or an octagon, rather than a rectangle.

Picture Tools

If your focus is on a text box or other on screen object, you may see “Drawing Tools” instead of “Picture Tools.”

Format, Drawing Tools

In the video, I showed PowerPoint volunteering design ideas for formatting a picture. If you don’t want to wait for that to happen spontaneously you can click on the Design tab and pick Design Ideas to prompt the software to make some suggestions.

Design Ideas

Other Resources

Using Images in Documents: 11 Dos and Don’ts

Better slide deck tips from the TED conference experts

From Seth Godin, a world class marketing expert, check out these tips on “How to fix your really bad PowerPoint.” One of his rules: no more than 6 words per slide. As in: kill those long lists of bullet points.

Some more specific tips on designing a slideshow:

Book: Presentation Zen

The ugly slide examples in my presentation are from a Vice article, The Pentagon Has the Worst PowerPoint Slides You’ve Ever Seen and the blog of a speech coach who in turn pointed me to the TED talks blog mentioned above. 

Finding Images for Your Presentations

You may be violating copyright by using random images from the web, particularly if a court would find you were using them “for commercial purposes in your presentation.” A Toastmasters club presentation might not get you in trouble, but a keynote speech could. See: 
Legally Using Images in Your Presentations from

Safe sources: – royalty free images, often but not always fairly professional – professional images for sale

Creative Commons Search – find images shared with “some rights reserved” (for example, requiring attribution of the artist or photographer). Many images on services like Flickr are shared this way.