Power Point Primer

The following is not intended to teach you how to use PowerPoint. There are lots of other sources for learning this program. But rather, this a list of secrets, things we have learned from our trial and error mistakes (these will remain our secrets) on how to use PowerPoint effectively for teaching in large classrooms (and lots of other places too).


  1. AVOID USING ALL CAPS. The normal use of upper and lowercase characters is easier to read. And all caps can be read as shouting. . . and we don't want to shout at anyone.
  2. Use italics rather than underlining to emphasize a point. Underlining makes characters with descenders, e.g., y, g, p difficult to read.
  3. Skip proper punctuation, e.g., becomes eg, etc etc - Punctuation marks can be difficult to see and take up space. The objective here is to communicate your ideas rather than your punctuation skills.
  4. Use a large font size. The bigger the classroom - the larger the font you will have to use. In a classroom with 250 seats or more, a 40 point font is recommended, and no smaller than 30 point. If you are not sure - try some different size fonts and display them on the screen and then go to the back of the classroom. If you have difficulty reading them from there, so will your students.
  5. A good rule of thumb for how much text on put on a slide is seven words across and eight lines top to bottom.
  6. Use a simple sans serif font, e.g., Helvetica or Arial. Serif fonts are easier to read on paper but on a large screen the area where the character becomes narrower (the serif) is difficult to see.
  7. Times     Arial

  8. Leave a border or a safe area around your text. Video projectors are not as accurate as monitors and may cut off words that are too close to the edges. A half-an-inch to three-quarter inch border when viewed on your monitor in presentation mode is a good rule of thumb.
  9. Use high contrast between foreground and background. A light background with a dark foreground is the most readable combination. E.g., a white or light yellow background with black or dark blue text is the optimal combination. Or another effective combination is a dark blue background with white text body and yellow for titles. Use all other colours sparingly. And remember - combinations of red and green appear as grey to people who are colour blind. Save this combination for Christmas time only.
  10. Slide 1  Slide 2  Slide 3

  11. Avoid sound effects, or if you use them, use them sparingly, the typewriter sound effect while text is appearing on the screen may be fun once or twice, but if used for every sentence is guaranteed to annoy everyone.
  12. This tip should be number one on the list: Always bring backup transparencies. While most classroom technology systems are reliable. . . data projector bulbs do burnout and are not quickly replaceable, computers and hard disks do crash, and no multimedia technology, except for coloured chalk, is 100 percent reliable.
    There are special transparencies available for laser or ink jet printers available in most book or stationary stores. And PowerPoint can be easily set up to printout slides on 8 ½ x 11 inch paper or transparencies. Sure, this may seem like extra work for something that happens rarely, but for that time when the technology fails - you will just smile, put your transparencies on the overhead projector and keep on teaching.

Power Point Helpers