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Creating impressive class presentations

From grade school though grad school you will be doing presentations at least once a semester. Often these fall toward the end of the term and are your largest project. It is important to make them clear, concise, and memorable. So here are a wide range of tips, tricks, and guidelines to use.

To Powerpoint or not to Powerpoint. That is the question….

The answer depends on the nature of your presentation. In an undergrad Shakespeare class I had to perform a monologue with whatever props, etc. I wanted. Powerpoint might help if you were going for a modernist interpretation, but I went for overly dramatic music, [props and a costume. If, however, you are presenting the results of a research project on global warming, Powerpoint is your friend.

If you have a great artistic topic and way of presenting the information, then skip Powerpoint. It’s the path of least resistance but also the most boring and least memorable. Roll plays, teaching exercises, and other types of A/V presentations can all be impressive, but you have to have the right kind of topic to make those work. If you choose to do a non-powerpoint presentation, keep these general principles in mind:

  • Make it interactive – people remember what they are involved in
  • Appeal to many senses – my monologue was unique and remembered by my class and teacher for the melodramatic music.
  • Don’t do any one thing for too long. Make sure the presentation still has a rhythm and flow.

If you choose to Powerpoint….

Sometimes you have no choice. Other times no other format will really work as well. Powerpoint and other presentation software is, frankly, massively useful for all that it can be a pain in the butt to work with. So here are some tips to making it an asset to your presentation.

  • Skip the silly animations, with one exception. Unless this is a class on using Microsoft Office, most people want to see you demonstrate your knowledge or research, not your skill with the tool.
    • The exception: The only really good time to use animation is to increase the interactivity of the presentation or create a pause. For example, if I am presenting about a historical event and my last slide is talking about the long-term impact of that event, I would have each item Fade In on Click – this creates emphasis and provides a break to talk about that impact before moving on to the item. This keeps people from jumping ahead.
    • Also skip things like moving gifs, flashing words, etc. They distract from the information you are trying to convey.
  • Simplicity is based on neat, clean, uncluttered slides
    • 1 major point per slide. Think of your slides as an outline with one point per slide.
    • Use images instead of words where possible, and not too many of either
    • Keep your fonts and color schemes consistent throughout. Backgrounds should be simple and clean.
    • If you are presenting the same type of data over and over, use the same table or graph designs each time – no sense in making your audience figure it out with each slide.
    • Put big tables to separate handouts for ease of reading and summarize what is interesting
  • Try to come up with a memorable opening and closing
    • Why does your topic matter?
    • What is really interesting, disgusting, outrageous, annoying, or heartwarming about it?
    • Do you think your classmates should do something about this? What?
  • Consider appealing to other senses if it fits your topic - this can be tricky, but for some topics you can bring in other objects to create engagement. Here are some examples:
    • Different types of rocks that you talk about for a Geology presentation
    • Spices for a presentation on the history of the “Spice Road”
    • An early 20th century corset if you are talking about women’s fight for the right to vote
    • Books with pictures in them (try to scan and add the most relevant to your presentation)
    • Music clips for a presentation on the 60s
    • A sampling of snacks from a country you are profiling
  • DON’T OVERCROWD YOUR SLIDES – this is cardinal sin number 1 and is committed all the time. Don’t do it. Less is more. Think of your slide as an outline, not all the details. Your presentation should be filling in all the details.

Remember, you will be standing up there talking. The goal of your slides is to help people follow your talk, not to replace it.

Regardless of the type of presentation you choose to do, PRACTICE. Present it out loud, even if no one is listening. It will help you smooth out the flow and make sure you aren’t missing any steps.

Finally, make sure you are prepared equipment-wise. Don’t make any assumptions. If you need speakers for your ipod in order to include music, bring them or verify in advance that something appropriate will be there. If you need a projector for your slides, verify in advance that it will be there or print overheads just in case. There is nothing worse than showing up with your brilliant work on a flash drive and finding out that the room has no computer, or having a great presentation set up in Google Presentation and finding out there is no internet connection.


For this reason I often make handouts for everyone. Then they can follow along on paper if nothing else. If you will be creating handouts, check out this post at my blog for some more suggestions.

Here are a few other great resources on creating top presentations:

Powerpoint Presentation Advice – This page has lots of specific suggestions, most general although a few oriented toward either employment or graduate research presentations.

Tips for Effective Powerpoint Presentations – Some very specific but excellent advice, such as choosing sans serif fonts for easier readability at a distance.

Presentation Zen – This blog is constantly posting great new presentation tips

Garr Reynolds – the guy behind Presentation Zen also has a page of tips and samples

Rebecca is a PhD student who blogs about her academic experiences at

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4 Responses to “Creating impressive class presentations”

  1. Chris Y. says:

    Rebecca: You missed the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint by Guy Kawasaki.

  2. [...] Creating impressive class presentations | GearFire – Tips for StudentsRebecca at Gearfire offers some solid tips (and links to more) about putting together presentations. ALthough directed towards students, most of the informatin applies to anyone who as to make presentations using PowerPoint.Tags: powerpoint presentation student communication [...]

  3. [...]  Creating Impressive Class Presentations from Gearfire [...]

  4. [...] Creating impressive class presentations [...]

  5. O. E. says:

    Guidelines and Tips for Creating an Effective Powerpoint Presentation

  6. mariana ramirez de aguilar wille says:

    You dont use almost anything about doing presentations without piwerpoint and you dont put also how to do a good presentation when you give it to your classroom without using computers and what kind of content do you have to have.



  7. [...] wish I had more time to teach more things, but I think I am going to need to include this site in the materials for any class I teach that requires a [...]

  8. [...] Creating impressive class presentations | GearFire – Tips for StudentsRebecca at Gearfire offers some solid tips (and links to more) about putting together presentations. ALthough directed towards students, most of the informatin applies to anyone who as to make presentations using PowerPoint.Tags: powerpoint presentation student communication [...]

  9. Useful article – thanks.

    If you want some further PowerPoint tips in the form of a funny YouTube video have a look at How NOT to use PowerPoint! by stand-up comedian Don McMillian.

    How NOT to use PowerPoint!