5 Key Practices when Building PowerPoint Slides

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"PowerPoint logo" by Microsoft, 2019. Retrieved July 5th, 2019.
“PowerPoint logo” by Microsoft, 2019.

Over 97% of Conestoga faculty identify that they use PowerPoint frequently in their teaching, and with good reason. Tried and true, PowerPoint has been the best known presentation software for the last 30 years. Its strength is often the familiarity we have with using it, and many other apps and services are based on its look and feel.


For the below suggestions, you can visit Microsoft’s PowerPoint support site to support your learning and troubleshooting. 

We have created a downloadable PowerPoint template, for either Zoom or Teams courses, with Conestoga branding and a space for captions at the bottom. Make use of this if appropriate for your teaching.

Key Practices

Often, we inherit PowerPoint slide decks in courses and need to update these before teaching with them. These key practices will help you update these efficiently and accessibly.

Use Slide Masters

To make sweeping overall changes to text, themes, and styling, use the Slide Master view. To get there:

  • In PowerPoint, click the View tab.
  • In the Master Views section, choose Slide Master.
  • Once there, select the top-most slide – this is the overall slide master.
  • Changes here impact all other slides.
using Master slides, as described.
Opening Slide Master view.

Make changes to:

  • the master layout of each slide layout you can build;
  • the theme – bring in the template you downloaded or choose something simple;
  • the font style (Arial, Calibri, or another sans serif font);
  • the font size of each level of text (at a minimum 18 pt);
  • any other universal components.

Then, close the Master view. The changes will apply across the presentation.

Design Accessibly

Keep your presentation production process simple. PowerPoint comes with templates, defaults and structures to help build accessible presentations.

When creating slides:

  • Choose from the slide templates available;
  • Avoid the Blank slide template.
  • Adjust the slide layout to suit your need.
clip of inserting new slides, and adjusting them
“Inserting new slides.” Screen recording by J. Wilkinson, December 6th 2019. Made with ScreenToGif.

Avoid using SmartArt, charts, and shapes. While these can be very helpful in designing visually appealing slides, they are often very inaccessible to screen readers. If using these, the easiest way to make them accessible is to build your image or chart, then take a screenshot of your design, and replace the individual objects with the screenshot. Avoid using shapes to “point out” things on the screen – use built in annotation tools in PowerPoint or Zoom instead.

Keep types of colour blindness in mind when selecting colours. Choose a slide design that has a simple, high contrast colour combination and design. Safe colour schemes are white, black, blue and orange.

Add alt-text to all images, graphics and videos.

Example slide showing the right click menu on an image, and the edit alt text option.
“Right click to add alt-text.” Screenshot by J. Wilkinson, December 6th 2019.

Present any text in the images as text in the slide, when it informs learning and participation. Avoid constructing slides that use images as a substitute to text – these will be unreadable to many learners. Plan to narrate, describe and talk about images.

Reduce the Amount of Text

Decrease the quantity of text on a slide, focussing on key information, activity instructions and a blend of visual and written content. Increase the font to a minimum of 18 pt. and test out visibility in the classroom.

If you need to present a lot of text, use animations to present a paragraph at a time. Read aloud the paragraph as you present it. Allow students time to process what you have read.

Additionally, you can use the presenter’s notes area to collect notes about key speaking points or questions. Save the slide space for active learning and activity anchors.

PowerPoint slides with the presenters notes expanded
“Using Presenters notes.” Screen shot by J. Wilkinson, December 6, 2019.

To see your notes in class, you’ll need to extend your display (or have 2 monitors). To do this;

  • Right click on the desktop;
  • Choose Display settings;
  • Scroll down to the bottom of the settings window, and;
  • Set the drop down menu to Extend desktop to this display.
video clip showing how to extend the display on the desktop, as described.
“Extend the display” Screenrecording by J. Wilkinson, December 6, 2019. Made with ScreenToGif.

Alternatively, refer to the notes on your mobile device, using the PowerPoint app.

Cite the Sources you use

Model the academic integrity you’d like learners to have. Add a References slide at the end of your presentation with references for images, videos and texts used.

We recommend the following resources:

Check the Accessibility

Use the Check Accessibility tool on each presentation. 

  • Click on File, then Check for Issues.
  • Select Check Accessibility.
  • A window will open with any unresolved issues.
  • Make sure all Errors and Warnings are resolved; Tips do not need to be resolved.
PowerPoint software accessibility checker
“Check Accessibility.” Screenshot by J. Wilkinson, December 6, 2019.

Learn more about making PowerPoint presentations accessible

Explore more

These tips may help you get started with adapting PowerPoint presentations, but you may want to extend your skills.

Check out the LinkedIn Learning course “Redefining PowerPoint in the College Classroom.” (You’ll need to use single sign on to sign in with your Conestoga email and password). This course aims to provide some tips and suggestions for adapting PowerPoint to the college classroom. Sign in with your Conestoga email and password.

Jess Wilkinson

Jesslyn is the Educational Technology Officer at Conestoga. An Ontario Certified Teacher, and holding a B.A. and B.Ed., Jesslyn researches and promotes new technologies for faculty to enhance pedagogical practices. She brings to the role her experience as a Google and Microsoft certified technology trainer and as a classroom teacher in South Korea, Mongolia, and Ontario, focusing on special education and assistive learning technologies. She is available for workshops, consultations, and support with using technology in higher education contexts.

2 Responses

    • Great video! This is one I watched while preparing this tip and the workshops, and it makes great points about focussing attention, simplifying and driving messages. Thanks for sharing!

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