Preflight checklist for your PowerPoint presentations

You may not always have time to create a blockbuster slideshow. But if you take a quick spin through this list, you can catch mistakes, improve polish, and prevent problems.

Students, teachers, trainers, and business professionals of all stripes are increasingly being asked (or required) to create and deliver slide presentations. But it's not exactly a full-time job for most people. In fact, for many users, it's a sporadic task, sometimes assigned at the last minute. That often means pushing other work aside and scrambling to remember how to add slides and speakers' notes and hoping that the text doesn't drift from blue 24-point Arial to white 44-point Calibri somewhere around the fifth slide.

PowerPoint has a few safety nets that can help with design and delivery issues, but there's still ample opportunity to overlook critical details and wind up with mistakes, inconsistencies, and unwelcome surprises at presentation time. This checklist (which you can also download as a PDF) will help you cover all the bases without having to become a PowerPoint expert. We've included a list of additional resources at the end so you can drill down on any specific tricks and techniques that interest you.

Content issues

  • Organization: Is your presentation constructed in a clear and logical way — beginning (title slide, introduction); middle (informational slides); and end (summary/conclusion)? PowerPoint's AutoContent Wizard can help you structure the show if you get stuck.
  • Objective: Does the presentation convey the necessary message/information? Is it suitable for the target audience?
  • Clarity and focus: Does each point lead logically to the next? Is every slide pulling its weight or would the presentation be tighter if you ditched a slide here and there?
  • Supporting/ancillary information: Does your presentation include hidden slides you can jump to if you need to fill time, answer questions, or amplify certain points?
  • Graphics/multimedia: Have you included charts, tables, artwork, or audio/video clips that make your presentation more interesting and help illustrate key data?
  • Supplemental material: Have you prepared handouts to distribute to your audience? This may not be necessary, but you don't want to leave it until the last minute.

Design issues

  • Consistent formatting: Have you used the same fonts and formats for common elements (titles, text boxes, bulleted lists, drawing objects) across all slides? Are the case and punctuation consistent (e.g., no ransom note capitalization or arbitrary periods after titles or phrases)? Have you applied a theme or background style to all the slides (or used a template) to create a unified design for the presentation?
  • Legible text: Have you kept the words on your slides to a minimum, letting them serve as cues for elaboration? Remember that the fastest way to lose your audience is to read slide text to them verbatim. Make sure you haven't crammed too much text on a slide. (PowerPoint makes it easy to move excess text onto its own slide.) Also check that you've used a large enough font in a readable color and there aren't any conflicting background colors or designs.
  • Accuracy: Have you checked spelling, verified names, and tested any links you've included on your slides?
  • Speaker's notes: Did you prepare some notes that will help you remember to say everything you want to say? If you put your key ideas and facts into PowerPoint's speaker's notes pane, you can refer to them during the show and optionally print them for audience handouts.
  • Transitions/animations/sounds: Have you tested any transitions, animations, and sound effects to make sure they work the way you want? Did you limit yourself to only the effects that make the information easier for your audience to grasp (as opposed to running amok with spins, fades, dissolves, and canned applause and drum rolls)?

Delivery issues

  • Timing: Have you rehearsed your presentation to make sure the timing is about right — with opportunities for Q/A, if appropriate? PowerPoint has a built-in rehearsal feature that will record the time you spend on each slide. Are you ready to fill time or cut to the chase if things run too short or too long?
  • Logistics/equipment: Have you verified that you'll have the necessary equipment at the presentation site (or made arrangements to bring your own)? A visit to the site ahead of time may help you spot any potential problems with the projector, power supply, physical layout, and so on. If you do run into a technical snag during the presentation, you may still be able to fix the issue and move on.
  • Fonts, supporting files: Does your presentation include all the components necessary to run properly if you'll be using someone else's system? To be on the safe side, you may want to use PowerPoint's Package for CD tool, which lets you put everything you might need — image files, video clips, TrueType fonts, sound files, and other files used by the presentation — onto a CD or into a folder for easy transport.
  • Basic navigation techniques: Do you know how to launch the slideshow and go to the next or previous slide in a presentation? Can you jump to a specific slide if necessary or black out/white out the display temporarily? If you follow a link away from the presentation, can you find your way back? Can you navigate with both keyboard and mouse? If you don't use PowerPoint very often, some last-minute practice and a simple cheat sheet will come in handy.
  • Speaking skills: Are you well versed in the material you'll be presenting? Have you rehearsed what you plan to say and practiced coordinating your speech with your slide navigation? Even if you're mortally afraid of public speaking, reviewing some best practices may help you smooth some rough edges off your delivery.

Additional resources

General tips



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Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

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