Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ten Mistakes Not To Make In Your Next Powerpoint Presentation

Writen by Gareth Butler

Love it or hate it, PowerPoint is used all over the world, every day, to create presentations. If you're getting ready to design a deck of slides for your next presentation, here are ten mistakes you need to avoid to create an interesting speech your audience will love.

Mistake #1: Don't Cram Too Much On One Slide!

Your audience has to listen to your speech, and read your slides at the same time. When they're doing one, they're not likely to be doing the other. It's essential to keep the slides simple.

Don't have a twenty bullet points on one slide. Or a couple of hundred words. Or four or five pie charts. Or a bar chart full of specific detail.

The best presentations make one clear point on each slide. Less is more!

If you say something during your speech that is clearly backed up by a fact on your slide, it adds authority to the point you're making.

For your next presentation, try limiting yourself to a maximum of five words per slide, including the title. Or can you ditch the words all together and illustrate your point with a photo? Try dropping all the numbers from a chart and just showing the trend.

Mistake #2: Don't Use Bullet Points On Every Slide!

I'm sure you've had to sit though one. You know, a presentation with endless slide after slide of bullet points. I've sat through many. The only good thing about them is they offer a chance to grab 40 winks.

There's nothing interesting about bullet points. They just encourage you to read from the slide, which insults an audience, and they take the audience's attention away from what you're saying.

There are much better ways to illustrate a point rather than bullets. Why not find a good photo that works as well (try or Or an interesting quote. Find a chart that shows the trend you're talking about. Show a simple table with raw data. Show logos of companies using the products you're selling (try Show newspaper clippings. Or don't show anything – sometimes, you need your audience to focus clearly on what you're saying.

Mistake #3: Don't Make Your Font Size Too Small!

When you're designing slides at your computer, it's easy to forget how your slides are actually going to be used. While 14pt text may look large enough sat in front of your computer, will it be visible from the back of a room when you present?

Just because you're projecting on to a 12' x 9' screen doesn't mean it's going to appear huge to everyone in the room. In fact, it's the opposite. Sat close to a PC, the screen almost fills your vision. From the back of a conference room, however, even a huge projected screen seems tiny.

My tip: when you've designed your slides on your PC, stand up, take five steps back and view your presentation. (You'll find a remote mouse useful for this.)

Can't read your slides now? Neither will your audience. Go into your master template, and double the text size. Now try again.

Mistake #4: Don't Use PowerPoint's Clipart!

I can only think of unprintable comments to make about the clip art supplied with PowerPoint. It's amateurish. It's badly designed. And there's such little choice, you see people shoehorning images into their slides which really don't fit the message or theme of their presentation.

My solution: use professional stock photography.

My favorite suppliers are and Both have almost a huge variety of photos ranging from animals to landscapes, landmarks to technology. Go to both sites and have a look around.

Is it expensive? Not at all. You pay between a couple of dollars per picture, which is nothing.

Tip: find a photo on a white background. In PowerPoint, click the transparency tool on the white area of the photo to cut the object out so it merges seamlessly with your presentation's background.

Mistake #5: Don't Use Sound Effects In Your PowerPoint Presentation!

Yes, PowerPoint does include exciting sound effects like (wait-for-it) a race car! A typewriter! A pane of glass being smashed! Gravy!

OK, I made that last one up.

Just resist all temptation and don't use any of them in your presentation.

They'll make you sound like an amateur who has just discovered some new features in PowerPoint and want to do everything possible to make them fit into your presentation whether they help or hinder.

And, believe me, they hinder.

There's not a lot more I can really say about sound effects. Just please, if you get nothing else from this article, understand this: never, never, use sound effects in PowerPoint.

Mistake #6: Don't Hack Together A PowerPoint Presentation At Random! Structure Gives Meaning

A presentation with no structure is like listening to someone ramble on about nothing in particular. It has no meaning, no message, and five minutes after the ramble has finished, you've forgotten everything about it anyway.

Which is why a good presentation should have a clearly defined structure. And by structure, I simply mean a beginning, a middle and an end.

Beginning: introduce yourself, your topic, why it matters and why you're the right person to talk about it.

Middle: the meaty substance. Talk pros and cons. Talk benefits. Talk features. Show them over and over why the message you're selling is essential. Repetition is good.

End: wrap it all up by referencing back to the beginning of your presentation. Give your audience a call to action – tell them what to do next.

Remember the saying "tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, tell 'em you just told 'em."

Mistake #7: Don't Read Your PowerPoint Slides Aloud!

Occasionally, I see presenters who bring a slide on-screen, then read it, word-for-word aloud to their audience.

It's such a bad thing to do. Your audience will be insulted, and you're missing the chance to use your slides to back-up and give authority to what you're saying.

If you think you have a habit of doing this, the secret is all in the preparation. If you use a script to speak from, write the script first, then create your slides second, without copying chunks of your script into PowerPoint. If you prefer to speak from notes, then create a list of notes using different wording than what's on your slides.

Then practice in front of a live audience. Maybe a partner, or a colleague. Get them to stop you every time you start reading from your slides. You'll soon loose the habit.

Mistake #8: Don't Loose Your Audience With Ambiguous PowerPoint Slides!

All slides need a clear, simple path for the audience's eye to follow. When slides are filled with content that looks the same (for example, a long list of bullet points in the same type, color and size) they get lost in the detail.

By making the importance of different parts of your slide clear, you'll instantly improve your audience's understanding of the message you're communicating.

Here's three of my favorite ways of improving the clarity of your slides.

Contrast: make more important items stand out. Make the font size bigger or brighter. Allow lots of space around the most important items.

Highlights: highlight important items with a different color. For example, highlight rows in a table as you talk about them.

Simplify: reduce the number of words or bullets or pictures in a slide. Split one complex slide into several simpler ones.

Brainstorm your own ideas for more!

Mistake #9: Don't Irritate Your Audience With Annoying PowerPoint Animations!

Yes, PowerPoint does include lots of flashy effects in its custom animations palette.

Yes, you can buy add-ons if you want even more.

No, you shouldn't use them!

Like sounds and clip-art, over used animations in your presentation look amateurish.

They distract the audiences attention away from what you're saying as they focus on the screen. And do lots of random effects impress your audience? No, never.

Stick with one or two that you like. I tend to use Wipe Right and Box Out. That's it.

It's the same with slide transitions. Find one you like and use it throughout your presentation.

Concentrate your efforts on giving a great presentation, not experimenting with all out PowerPoint's animation styles!

Mistake #10: Don't Use The Amateurishly Designed Templates Supplied With PowerPoint!

Like most of the artwork supplied with PowerPoint, it's awful. Why didn't Microsoft hire someone to create some decent templates to bundle in with the software. Hey, Microsoft, I'm for hire if you want me!

The second-worst habit is finding free ones on the web. I can't remember ever seeing some nicely designed PowerPoint templates that someone is giving away for free. The quality is usually around about Microsoft's level!

The solution? Do it yourself, or hire a pro.

Try creating something simple. A graduated background, maybe, with your company's logo in the bottom corner. Or a good royalty-free stock photo with a semi-transparent tinted box laid over the top. Both solutions could look good.

Avoid these ten mistakes and you'll give a much better presentation the next time you speak.

To learn about and discuss any PowerPoint related topics, visit the new PowerPoint Forum message board. The board covers all topics for PowerPoint users, from beginners to advanced. Pop along, have a read and contribute at

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