Microsoft estimate that around 1 million PowerPoint presentations are given every day. The vast majority consist of bullet points with white text on a dark background, made up of text that is too small to read, accompanied by Clip Art and with annoying and distracting effects such as text flying in from the left. Sadly, most presentations are also too long, lack structure and do not hold the audience's attention. So what can you do to change this situation and ensure that your presentations do not fall into this category and have the impact needed to get your message across?

Keep it short
Audiences can generally only pay attention for twenty to thirty minutes and they make their decision about whether to pay attention within the first few minutes. To keep the audience's attention you need to design and structure your presentation from the audience's perspective, rather than just producing notes for your own benefit. This will generally mean avoiding bullet points and text wherever possible, and delivering your presentation in less than thirty minutes.

Colour combinations
It is generally best to use a dark colour as a background. It provides a much more relaxing background for the audience to look at and helps them focus on the content. If you do go for something lighter make sure you don't use white as it is far too bright and can become painful to look at, distracting the audience.

Similarly, try and avoid pale text on an equally pale background. This might look alright on your computer monitor but will be hard to read on a full screen in a large room. Also, don't use red text on a green background or vice versa as the chances are anyone who is colour blind will be unable to read it and you may end up being several slides into a presentation before they even realise it has started!

Font styles and formatting
If you make your slides consistent by using the same size style and font, and position the text in the same location on all your slides the audience will find your presentation easier to follow. It also means that if you do change the font type, size or position for a particular slide it will have much more impact.

You should leave some 'thinking' space on your slides and not be pushed into feeling you need to fill the full space on the slide. If you do have so much text on your slide that you need to use small text, use a serif font such as Times New Roman. The serifs (the bits that stick out on each letter) will help your audience to read and understand small text.

Try and avoid having text coming into the slide from the left. Western audiences read from left to right so they can't start reading such text until it is all on the screen. If you do want to animate your text, bringing it in from the right or fading in words from the left will be much easier to follow.

Use pictures and diagrams
A picture really can say a thousand words. Business presentations are about exchanging knowledge and they should be designed to get information across to the audience without distracting, confusing or boring them. Using pictures or photos alongside text can help people understand the message you are trying to get across, particularly if you think carefully about the type of picture or photo you use. They also make the presentation more interesting. If you can't keep your audience's attention, they will not remember the points you made, making giving the presentation a waste of time.

Animate diagrams
It is often much more effective, and easier for the audience to take in, to present diagrams by revealing one step at a time rather than the whole thing in one go, for example, you can have a pyramid diagram reveal itself section by section from the bottom up. There are many animation effects available in PowerPoint that you can add to your diagrams enabling you to direct focus to different pieces of a diagram as the show progresses, thereby controlling the flow of information and making sure your audience isn't overloaded within information.

Get your presentation reviewed
It is important to get someone else to review your presentation before it is delivered. Even if they are not in the same office as yourself you can use PowerPoint in combination with Microsoft Outlook to send a presentation for review. This allows the reviewer to add comments and make changes to their copy of the presentation without the need to mark up hard copies. They can send it back to you and you can merge it with your original copy of the presentation using the reviewing tools in PowerPoint to incorporate the reviewer's comments into your presentation.

Putting into practice the tips given above should enable you to design your presentation so that it has real impact. If the audience feels comfortable and stimulated their interest will be held and you will have no problem getting your message across.