Saturday, June 28, 2008

What Annoys Audiences About Powerpoint Presentations

Writen by Dave Paradi

When you prepare to deliver your next PowerPoint presentation, your audience should be first on your list of considerations. Unfortunately, too many presenters annoy their audiences. An online survey of 688 people who regularly see PowerPoint presentations revealed the following top annoyances (item and what percentage of the respondents cited that item as one of their top three annoyances):

The speaker read the slides to us 62.0%
Text so small I couldn't read it 46.9%
Slides hard to see because of color choice 42.6%
Full sentences instead of bullet points 39.1%
Moving/flying text or graphics 24.8%
Overly complex diagrams or charts 22.2%

The top four annoying mistakes are the same as a similar survey done in 2003, suggesting that presenters are not getting much better at presenting clear information in an appealing manner.

The survey also asked for written comments in addition to the ranking and 415 people wrote in with additional ideas. The comments covered a wide range, but most common were three areas:

1. Delivery of PowerPoint Presentations

Many audience members wrote to comment on how the delivery of the PowerPoint presentation was a big problem. The areas of greatest concern were:

a) The use of PowerPoint when another communication method would have been better. Too many times it seems that PowerPoint is the default communication method and people have forgotten that a simple memo or one-on-one conversation would be much better.

b) The presenter is not familiar with how to deliver the presentation using the equipment. Comments cited the lack of knowledge of many presenters on how to smoothly start a presentation and keep the flow going during the presentation when using PowerPoint.

c) The presenter is not prepared to add to what the slides say. This seems to be caused by the presenter not knowing the topic well enough, or the mistaken use of PowerPoint as a teleprompter where the speech is read to the audience (echoing the top annoyance in the ranking).

2. Poor Slide Design

Even when the presenter is prepared and knowledgeable, poor design of the slides causes confusion among audience members. They focused on these areas as the ones of most concern:

a) Poor selection of colors and fonts make the slides hard to see. While a computer has the ability to produce millions of colors and hundreds of fonts, not all of them should be used together. Colors must have enough contrast to be seen and fonts need to be clear and simple in order to be read when projected. If the audience can't figure out what is being projected, the visuals are of no use.

b) Misuse of the Slide Master and Slide Layout leads to inconsistent appearance of slides during the presentation. Audiences are looking for consistency during the presentation in the look and basic layout of the slides. This makes it easier to follow the presentation. Too often they are guessing as to what the next slide will look like and forced to search on every slide for the relevant ideas.

c) Backgrounds should be clean and not distracting. Audiences find backgrounds that contain numerous graphics, symbols and text distract from the information that is supposed to be central to the slide. They also commented on how stark black on white slides are too bright and need some simple color and design to make them appealing.

3. Overuse of PowerPoint's features

Each version of PowerPoint seems to contain more and more features designed to make it easier to add flashy graphics, animation and multimedia to presentations. And too many presenters think that just because the feature is there, they should be using it. Audiences were clear that use of animation to entertain instead of inform or adding multimedia audio or video segments to show off the presenters talents were unnecessary and certainly took away from the message being presented.

Millions of Dollars Wasted on Annoying Audiences Each Year The respondents to the survey were also asked how many presentations they see and how prevalent these annoying mistakes were.. Just over half of the respondents (54%) see 100 or more presentations per year, making them well qualified to identify how often these problems occur. And the news from this group of frequent presentation audience members is not good. One third of this group said that more than half of the presentations they see suffer from these annoying items and another third of this group said at least one in four presentations have annoying elements. This suggests that a significant percentage of the estimated 30 million PowerPoint presentations done each day fall in to the annoying category. An annoying presentation wastes the time of the people attending and causes enormous rework as ideas are not clearly communicated. This wasted time adds up to tens of millions of dollars each year. And this is money that can be saved by creating and delivering better PowerPoint presentations.

What Can Be Done?

Presenters need to focus on three things that will help them communicate more clearly when using PowerPoint:

1. Prepare a simple slide design with contrasting colors and clear fonts. Use a similar layout for each slide so that the presentation is consistent in appearance for the audience.

2. Simplify the content of your slides. Use less text, more graphics and try to do less on each slide. Keep the slides focused and the audience will be able to follow your message much better.

3. Prepare yourself for the presentation. Learn how to use the equipment and know your subject well enough that you presentation becomes a conversation with the audience instead of reciting a speech.

If you keep the audience as the central focus of your presentation, with a goal to clearly communicate with them, you can greatly improve your PowerPoint presentations.

Dave Paradi is the co-author of Prentice Hall's "Guide to PowerPoint", a text used at the Wall Street Journal's #1 ranked MBA school, and his ideas have been featured by international publications. Dave's "practical not technical" approach and customized presentations have audiences walking out of his sessions with ideas they can begin using immediately. He offers a free PowerPoint e-course, newsletter and articles on his web site at

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