Teen PowerPoint champ shares tips

US student offers practical ways finance professionals can improve their presentation skills.
Seth Maddox

Last spring, Seth Maddox had never heard of the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championships.

As a high school senior in his tiny hometown of Geraldine, Alabama, Maddox was hard at work earning Microsoft Office Specialist certifications when he discovered the process automatically enrolled him in a PowerPoint 2016 state championship competition. He had two certifications at the time but would go on to earn five.

“My business teacher persuaded me to take the certification tests for three Microsoft Office applications, and I just stumbled into the contest. I wasn’t even trying to win,” he said.

He won the Alabama PowerPoint contest, and then he beat out all the other state champions to represent the US in the PowerPoint 2016 section of the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship in July and won. His world champion title came with a $7,000 cash prize.

The annual championship series, presented by Certiport Inc., is a global competition that tests students’ skills on Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Students ranging in age from 13 to 22 who win their state competitions are eligible to compete on the national level, and those winners go on to represent their respective countries at the World Championships. This year the World Championships took place in New York City.

For the national and world contests, Maddox and the other competitors were given a PowerPoint slide printout, text and images to be used in the presentation, and a laptop computer. Their challenge was to re-create the PowerPoint as faithfully and accurately as possible.

“I learned there are multiple ways to complete the requirement, but some are better and faster,” he said. “Basically, though, I just had to prove I knew how to do it.”

Maddox, 18, is now a freshman at Auburn University, planning to major in computer engineering. He said PowerPoint is easy to learn but difficult to master. He shared his favourite PowerPoint features and a few tips anyone can use to create a dynamic presentation.

Slide Master. Slide Master is a time-saving feature that allows users to set up a presentation template. “Slide Master can save slide layouts, including the background colour, fonts, effects, positioning, and others,” Maddox said. This is helpful for making universal changes to every slide within your presentation by simply adjusting the Slide Master, he added.

Embedding or linking objects. Make your PowerPoint presentation more dynamic by inserting interactive objects directly into slides. This is a convenient way to illustrate processes, Maddox said. “You can even embed a PowerPoint presentation within another PowerPoint presentation,” he added. Using links is another way to add dynamic elements. “For example, you can create an Excel spreadsheet and set up a link to it in your PowerPoint presentation,” Maddox said. “When you change the spreadsheet, it automatically updates in the slides.”

Reusing slides. If you are a regular presenter, you can use the same PowerPoint over and over, and change it slightly for different audiences by activating the reuse tool to add slides from other presentations. You can also make a large master PowerPoint file and then use individual slides to create custom presentations for specific audiences. “This is one of the greatest PowerPoint tools for the average person, and it saves a ton of time,” Maddox said.

Take advantage of graphics. Maddox cautions users to avoid creating PowerPoint presentations as static walls of text and to take advantage of the platform’s visual power. “You need to include text in your presentations, of course,” Maddox said. “But PowerPoint is awesome to use as a visual medium to share ideas and connect with your audience.”

Anyone can become proficient. The average accounting professional likely won’t have an interest in winning a PowerPoint world championship, but anyone can become more proficient. “You can play with it on your own and look for features you have never used, or you can purchase sample certification tests from various companies and practise on those,” Maddox said. “I used GMetrix and learned a lot about functionality.” There are also myriad YouTube videos and tutorials online. And be willing to devote time to learning. “You may not be able to learn everything about PowerPoint in 30 minutes, but if you take the time to learn about PowerPoint’s capabilities, you can develop your skills,” he said.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at