Death by PowerPoint. We’ve all been there: forced to sit through one slide after another crammed with text, all those awful bullet points and no visuals for relief.

B-O-R-I-N-G.

If that sounds bad, imagine a PowerPoint presentation shrunken down and smashed onto the an iPhone’s 480 x 320 pixel screen.

Well, get used to it because the more popular the iPhone and other smart phones get, the more people are using them for business, including presentations and Webinars.

But by sticking with a few tried and true design principles, it’s easy to tailor PowerPoint decks for the small screen that look good, and even more importantly, get your point across, according to graphic design experts.

Whether it’s a slideshow or Webinar, when you’re designing for the smart phone, the No. 1 rule is show, don’t tell. “If a picture’s worth a thousand words, it’s worth 10,000 on the small screen,” says says Paul Stannard, CEO at SmartDraw.com, developer of a business graphics software program that’s used for creating PowerPoint presentations.

The ideal PowerPoint slide has three words and one or two images, says Rick Altman, a design guru who’s built a career teaching people how to fix what ails their PowerPoint presentations. “If you’ve got too much text on the screen, you can’t compel an audience in any emotional way at all,” says Altman, author of the just released Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Still Suck & How You Can Make Them Even Better.

PowerPoint design tips

Other suggestions:

  • Bigger is better. Use a big enough type size so text you include are easy to read. A recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers study found that newspaper readers held extremely pessimistic views of reading papers on e-books or mobile phones due to the poor quality of the presentation, including tiny text.
  • Include audio. Don’t mistake a slide deck for a presentation – the presenter’s own voice is the most important element of a presentation, so make sure whatever you’re creating includes some kind of audio track, Altman says. Otherwise you’re better off creating a Word document someone could download as a .pdf file, he says.
  • Be creative. One option: enlarge a photo so it takes up the entire area of the slide, then run the text in black in a section of it, such as the sky. “Suddenly you have a slide that looks totally different and it creates a different experience for the audience,” Altman says.
  • Use diagrams. Visuals don’t have to be just photographs, drawings or clip art. If you’re trying to describe how your company is organized or the process you use to ship products or solve problems for customers, use charts, timelines or other types of diagrams, SmartDraw.com’s Stannard says. For example, “You could create a map that’s integrated with Google Maps with data points showing all your retail outlets in southern Florida” he says.
  • Use high contrast colors. Daylight or other bright light can make it hard to see what’s on the screen of an iPhone, so compensate by using a high contrast colors, Stannard says.
  • Work back channels into your design. If you’re designing for a Webinar or other live presentation, consider that at least some people tuning in will use Twitter as a back channel to ask questions or live blog the event. If you want to encourage that kind of participation, create a Twitter hash tag for the event and include it your design, Altman says.

Finally, don’t be intimidated. Altman works with small businesses on a weekly basis and at the vast majority the people creating PowerPoint presentations aren’t trained designers. “You’d be amazed at what people who think they can’t design their way out of a paper bag do when they’re liberated from thinking” they can only put text on slides, he says. “They think creatively for the first time and realize it doesn’t take that much.”

SIDEBAR: PowerPoint Design Resources

Here are some resources for learning how to create PowerPoint presentations for smart phones:

Screen tests -- If your presentation is stored somewhere on the Web, you can plug the page’s URL into a mobile phone screen emulator application to see what it would look like. This list from mobiForge links to nine mobile emulator sites for iPhones, Blackberrys, other smart phones and different mobile Web browsers.

Presentation design blogs -- Get PowerPoint presentation design ideas from experts on blogs such as Nancy Duarte’s Slideology.com, Presentation Zen or by looking at presentations on Slideshare, the YouTube of PowerPoint presentations.

Training -- Bone up on the subject by taking a class. SmartDraw.com, the business graphics software vendor, offers 14 free e-mail courses on subjects such as using PowerPoint and choosing the right visuals. Rick Altman runs an annual PowerPointLive conference, which features tutorials and presentation makeovers; the next meeting is Oct. 11-14 in Atlanta.