Let's face it. PowerPoint is cool. If you do it right, it can spice up your speech or classroom presentation. PowerPoint can help your classmates understand your main ideas, not to mention impress your teacher.

However, many people "clutter it up" by putting everything, including the kitchen sink, into their PowerPoint presentations. Instead of clutter, aim for creativity and simplicity.

Keep It Simple Sam (KISS)

If you are new to PowerPoint, the easiest way to start is to open up the PowerPoint program and click on one of the design templates. The templates have a predetermined color scheme and font size. You simply plug in your text and artwork. Once you have some experience using the program, you can branch out on your own. You can customize your color scheme, the type and speed of the transitions between slides, and even insert custom animation. Spend some time exploring the program and experimenting before you put together your actual presentation.

Once you understand the basics of your PowerPoint program, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Pick a simple, easy-to-read font style and use it throughout your entire presentation. Make sure the font size is large enough to be seen easily by the people sitting in the back of the room. Choose a light-colored background and a dark color for your text. Incorporate lots of "white space" on each slide. White space is simply empty space.

Most people try to put too much stuff (text and/or pictures) on each slide. Audiences don't like this. They feel overwhelmed and begin to "tune out." Each slide should contain only one idea and the supporting points for that idea. Think of it as the "1 x 1" rule. For example, don't put the stages of photosynthesis and the factors influencing photosynthesis on one slide. Split it into two separate slides. This allows for lots of white space, and you have room to make the font size large.

Use bullets or dashes and short phrases for your text instead of complete sentences. For example, say, "Three Branches of Government: -Executive, -Legislative, -Judicial." Don't say, "There Are Three Branches of Government."

Use a chart or a graph to display statistics (numerical facts). People understand pictures better than words. Again, one chart per slide is best.

Art and Images

Now it is time to get creative. The artwork that accompanies your text is important. The 1 x 1 rule is helpful here too. Make sure your pictures have a purpose and are not simply decorative. Do they clarify the text? Do they match the style of the text and the tone of your presentation? For example, don't use cartoon clip art in a serious presentation. You can also add music or sound effects if they don't detract from your message.

There are lots of places to find photos and video clips. However, make sure they are "royalty free." Royalty free means you have permission to use the photo or clip and you don't have to worry about committing plagiarism. Here are just a few sites where you can obtain royalty free images: photos.com, istockphoto.com and openstockphotography.org. You can find other similar sites by doing an Internet search for "royalty free images."

If you keep it simple and unleash your creativity, you can create PowerPoint presentations that really pack a punch.