Module: Microsoft PowerPoint, Universally Designed (Page 1 of 18)


  1. Purpose
  2. Creating the PowerPoint Document
    1. Using Outline View
    2. Using Graphics and Images
    3. Narrated PowerPoint Presentations
    4. More Tips for Universal Design, Usability, and Accessibility
  3. PowerPoint as a Lecture Aide
    1. Delivery
    2. Speaker Notes for Presenting
    3. Tips for Presenting PowerPoint
  4. PowerPoint for Note Taking and Studying
  5. Web-based Presentations and HTML Conversion Tools
    1. Saving PowerPoint as “Web Page”
    2. Conversion Tools
  6. References
    1. Tutorials from Microsoft
    2. Accessibility Tutorials
    3. PowerPoint Optimizing Tutorials
    4. Other tools
    5. HTML Alternative to PowerPoint
  7. Feedback


PowerPoint, the nearly ubiquitous presentation software from Microsoft, is commonly used in higher education to illustrate and reinforce the key points of a lecture. A universally-designed PowerPoint presentation enhances student learning by presenting information in a variety of formats—text, images, and multimedia. In addition to accommodating the different ways people learn, taking a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach to PowerPoint will also help you avoid technological barriers that may inhibit students’ ability to obtain important information.

The dominant theme of this module is universal access of presentation materials, both in the classroom and in the study space. A lecture or presentation may include audience members who encounter any number of temporary or permanent barriers that prevent them from obtaining all of the information in your presentation. This can include, but is not limited to, audience participants who:

  • are blind or have poor eyesight
  • have an obstructed view or forgot their eyeglasses
  • are deaf or hard of hearing
  • have a cognitive disability (learning disability, traumatic brain injury, etc.)

As an educator, you strive to reach the maximum number of students. As a presenter, you want your audience to perceive and understand the information you present. The following techniques can help you achieve these goals.

Creating the PowerPoint Document

Using Outline View

Perhaps the easiest way to create a new PowerPoint presentation is to type an outline in PowerPoint's outline view. Each major heading of the outline represents the title of a new slide, while indented lines below each heading become bullet points for that slide. To create a slideshow outline in PowerPoint, following these steps:

  1. From the menu bar, choose View > Normal.
  2. Click on the Outline Tab on the left hand side of the screen (see Figure 1 below).
  3. Click on the icon that represents a slide. It will be to the right of the number 1.
  4. Type the first major point of your outline. You have just created the title for your first slide.
  5. Press the Enter key to move to the next line.
  6. At this point, you can enter the next major point of your outline, creating a new slide, or you can press the Tab key to enter sub-points under the first major point. Press the Tab key to indent, Shift-Tab to un-indent.
Figure 1

Figure 1:  The Slide View Tab

In PowerPoint’s “Normal” view, two tabs display on the left-hand side of the screen: Outline and Slides. Outline View is a powerful tool for organizing presentations. It shows the flow of key points from slide to slide, and allows the author to ensure that all text on the slides will be fully available to users.

Using Outline View can help ensure that the elements of each slide are visible and organized appropriately when the presentation is exported to other formats such as Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF, and HTML. Note that the common practice of adding text to a slide by drawing a text box and entering text into it is not recommended. Text added in this way is often omitted when the document is exported to one of these other formats.

Microsoft Word can also be used to create the outline for your presentation. The resultant document can then be transferred to PowerPoint for the addition of graphics, designs and style application, and color schemes.

Using Graphics and Images

One common use of PowerPoint is to augment textual information with pictures, charts, and graphs. By adding additional information to your presentation about these visual elements, you assist people in your audience who cannot see the images, or who have difficulty discriminating key elements in them.

Related Tutorial  To learn how to add alternative text descriptions of images in PowerPoint, see the tutorial Adding Alternate Text to Images in Microsoft PowerPoint.

Additional techniques:

  1. Besides adding alternative text to images, you can also explain graphics directly on the slides where they appear. However, you may find that your slides are often too limited in size for this solution to be optimal.
  2. You can also describe your images in the Notes Pane, a small pane that displays below the Slide Pane in Normal View. Notes are available when viewing the slide show (Right-Click > Speaker Notes), and with various printing options

Narrated PowerPoint Presentations

Providing audio narration for your presentation can make the content more accessible for your students. Keep in mind that some users will not be able to play or hear the sounds. If you decide to create a narrated PowerPoint presentation, you should:

  • Script the narration first, and focus on adding detail to what is already on the slides.
  • Include the script for each slide in the Notes Pane. This will act as a transcript for the hearing-impaired and those without audio.
  • For best results, use a headset instead of a handheld microphone. This will provide consistency in volume and a reduction in background noise.

More Tips for Universal Design, Usability, and Accessibility

In addition to the ideas provided above, the following tips will help ensure that your PowerPoint presentation will be well accepted and understood by a variety of audiences:

  • Do not rely on color or font changes alone to convey important information. Not everyone in your audience will be able to distinguish color or font changes.
  • Keep the background simple and ensure a high contrast between background color and foreground text.
  • Make sure charts and graphs can be understood, even if copied or printed in black and white.
  • Hyperlinks should clearly convey where they will take the user. The presentation should also explain what the user will achieve by following the link.
  • Use fonts that are clear and not overly ornate. San serif fonts like Arial and Verdana are best for headings and text viewing on screen. Fonts with serifs, such as Times New Roman and Garamond, are generally better for body text and and printed documents.
  • Font sizes should be large and readable by people who have vision impairments:
    • For audiences of 40-99 people, use a font size of at least 28 points.
    • For audiences of more than 100 people, use a font size of 36 points or larger.
  • Explain any background context that might be crucial to understanding.
  • Define acronyms upon first usage, and avoid using slang, jargon, or ambiguous terms that limit universal understanding.
  • Each image in your presentation should have alternative text or should be described in the text of the slide.
  • All videos that play within PowerPoint should be captioned, described, and transcribed. This information can be provided in the Notes section for a given slide.

PowerPoint as a Lecture Aide


One of PowerPoint’s strengths is its ability to combine text, images, and animation with a verbal presentation. This multimodal delivery corresponds to key UDL principles, namely the importance of presenting information and concepts in multiple ways and fostering active learner engagement.

When presenting with PowerPoint, it is important to assume that not everyone will be able to see or hear your content, or be able to visually comprehend the meaning of charts, graphs, and images. Describe verbally the content you present on screen to assist people with visual impairments or those who simply do not have a clear line of sight to the projected content.

Many presentation experts believe it is best to discuss the key concepts of the slide in words that are easily related to the information on screen. This differs from reading the text of the slides verbatim. Take the opportunity to expand on the meaning of key visual elements. For example, “The chart illustrates the 20% rise in registered voters over the last thirty years.”

Increasingly, PowerPoint is being used as a tool for assessing student comprehension during lecture. By pairing PowerPoint with a student response system like i-Clickers, instructors can quiz students about key topics immediately following their presentation. Inserting question slides into a long presentation breaks it up into shorter chunks and forces students to reflect on what they’ve just learned before moving ahead.

Speaker Notes for Presenting

As discussed before, PowerPoint allows you to add notes to each slide of your presentation. These Notes can be used to prompt the speaker during a presentation. They are also made available when you create handouts that include Speaker Notes—an option in the print dialog box.

Tips for Presenting PowerPoint

Discussed below are some useful tips for lecturers using PowerPoint during their presentations:

  • Technical
    • Start Slideshow = F5
    • Start Slideshow from current slide = Shift + F5
    • Display black screen before starting = B (start slideshow, press B, then any key will take you to the presentation).
    • Display white screen = W
    • Display Speaker Notes during presentations = Right-Click (shift + F10) >Screen > Speaker Notes.
  • General
    • An audience can remember only 4 to 6 different points per slide, so don’t overload slides with information.
    • Repeat questions so that everyone can hear them. Rephrase the question if necessary.
    • Conclude presentations with a summary of key points.

PowerPoint for Note Taking and Studying

There are several ways you can use PowerPoint to help students take notes in class. One method, which has become de rigueur for many undergraduate courses, is to print a PowerPoint slide show as a handout—or if not actually print it, then save it in an easily printable format like PDF. Such a handout has slide thumbnail images on the left side of the page and blank lines for note taking on the right. Many students like this option because it allows them to take notes during class with pencil and paper.

Another option is to transfer your PowerPoint presentation—or an outline of it—to Word, where it can be used by students who cannot, or do not like to, take notes by hand. Such students generally prefer to use a laptop computer for this purpose. Converting PowerPoint to Word allows students to type their notes directly into the document. Their notes are then searchable and can be easily edited. This method also allows students to take advantage of Word’s outline tools.

To transfer a PowerPoint outline to Word, choose Send to > MS Word, and select the Outline option. If the “Send to MS Word with Paste Link” option is used, a facsimile of the slide will appear along with the outline text in the Word document. If changes are subsequently made to the slide in PowerPoint, those alterations will appear in the Word document.

Web-based Presentations and HTML Conversion Tools

Distributing PowerPoint presentations via the web offers many benefits, as well as a few challenges. Converting your presentation to the HTML format ensures that everybody in your audience with an Internet connection and a web browser will be able to view the information. Saving in HTML makes having the PowerPoint software unnecessary. However, the HTML format includes its own set of rules and standards that must be followed to ensure equivalent access for everyone. Fortunately, there are several options and tools available for converting presentations to accessible HTML.

Saving PowerPoint as “Web Page

PowerPoint presentations can be converted to the HTML format using the “Save As a Web Page” option. This command will generate a set of HTML files that will mirror the look of your presentation. Unfortunately, the resultant files use frames to organize the display and navigation of the presentation. The end product can often present navigation problems for those accessing the information while using screen reading software and browsers other than Microsoft Internet Explorer. Because it offers limited accessibility, this option is not recommended. However, if you decide to use this option to convert your PowerPoint presentations to HTML, make sure you do the following:

  • Include alternative text for all images.
  • Provide a separate transcript for any information provided in audio.

Conversion Tools

Several tools are available for creating accessible web pages from PowerPoint. Each has its own advantages, and each costs less than $100 for a single license. Accessible Web Publishing Wizard
The Accessible Web Publishing Wizard for Microsoft®Office provides a simple way to create highly accessible and standards compliant web versions of Office documents that are more accessible and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities. The standard single license lists at $39.95 as of July 2007. Site licenses are also available.
LecShare Software
This software provides users with a step-by-step process for reviewing the accessibility of your PowerPoint presentation. It will determine whether you have provided alternative text for images, included slide titles, and it will even display the order in which your presentation will be read by users of screen reading software. This versatile tool can even convert PowerPoint to accessible narrated slideshows, HTML slideshows, QuickTime movies, and MPEG4 video podcasting format. LecShare can also create MS Word handouts that contain slide images and accompanying Notes for each slide. LecShare Pro is available for $69.00 as of July 2007. Volume discounts and site licenses are available.
Camtasia Studio
TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio can apture the movement of almost anything on the computer, and generates videos in multiple formats. It can also be used to create a narrated PowerPoint presentation. Camtasia provides a very easy-to-use interface for adding captions. Camtasia Studio is available for $29.95 (education pricing) as of July 2007.


Tutorials from Microsoft

Microsoft PowerPoint Tutorials
The main PowerPoint page that leads to version specific help as well as other Technical Resources.
Microsoft PowerPoint 2003 Training Modules
Each module takes approximately 50 minutes to complete, there are demonstration videos as well as these self-paced interactive tutorials.

Accessibility Tutorials

University of Wisconsin’s Center on Education and Work
Tutorial for Creating Accessible PowerPoint Presentations.
How to Create Accessible PowerPoint Presentations from Scratch.
All you need to know about accessibility of PowerPoint presentations.
How to Make PowerPoint Presentations Accessible to Publish on the Web
Different options presented according to the individual characteristics of your PowerPoint presentation.
PowerPoint & Friends: Accessible Slides on the Web
Thoughtful presentation on options for posting PowerPoint content on the internet from Terry Thompson of the University of Washington’s DO-IT project.
PowerPoint Accessibility
Article from WebAIM covers alternative ways to make PowerPoint accessible on the web.
Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education (GRADE) Project
accesselearning is a free, online ten-module tutorial that offers information, instructional techniques, and practice labs on how to make the most common needs in distance education accessible for individuals with disabilities, and enhance the usability of online materials for all students. Requires creating a log-on, but this is only for user numbers tracking. Module 3 is Making PowerPoint Slides Accessible.
Guidelines: Accessible PowerPoint Files
Offers a list of “Must, Should and May Items” that create more accessibility: “Must” items are critical to basic access for people with disabilities.
NCDAE Tips and Tools: Microsoft PowerPoint
A discussion of accessibility and Microsoft PowerPoint.

PowerPoint Optimizing Tutorials

Reduce the size of your PowerPoint files (
PowerPoint 2003 recommendations from Microsoft.

Related Tools

Star Office
Star Office provides UNIX/Linux (and Windows) users with an alternative presentation authoring application, but can also open PowerPoint files. The software is available for less than $100.
Open Office
An open source, free software suite that can open PowerPoint files.
PowerPoint Viewer 2007
PowerPoint Viewer 2007 lets you view full-featured presentations created in PowerPoint 97 and later versions, but does not allow for presentation notes to be viewed.
2007 Microsoft Office Add-in: Microsoft Save as PDF
Microsoft’s PDF writer will create tagged PDFs from styled Microsoft content.

HTML Alternatives to PowerPoint

S5 Presentation Format
A free HTML presentation method by Eric Meyer that allows slide show-style presentation just a standard web browser. Very attractive and easy, if you are comfortable with HTML and Cascading Style Sheets. Comes with tutorials. Handouts and information specific to handouts can also be generated. See for an example of a slide show created in this manner.

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