10 Things You Should Never Do in a PowerPoint Presentation

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PowerPoint is still the most commonly used presentation software on the market. While interesting new entrants like Prezi are attracting some passionate followers, for over 20 years, most of us have turned to PowerPoint when we need to put together a slide deck.

As an application, it allows you to do everything you need to do in creating an effective presentation. Unfortunately, it also comes with enough bells and whistles to lead you down the path to presentation hell.

No doubt you’ve experienced some painful PowerPoint presentations in your time. If you want to be known as someone who does PowerPoint right, here are 10 things you should never do.

  1. Cram a slide with too much detail: This one is obvious. If the people around a table or further back in a room can’t read what’s on your slides, they get frustrated. This is especially true for charts and spreadsheets. It’s safe to assume that copying and pasting Excel spreadsheets into your slides is a bad idea. Use slides to share data highlights and provide details verbally or via a handout. Make sure your text is big enough to read (36pt headlines and 20pt body text at least).
  2. Reproduce your whole talk on your slides: If you’re reading your entire presentation from your slides, you have definitely entered PowerPoint hell. Within minutes, everyone will zone out. Someone will ask whether they can get the slides electronically since they contain everything you planned to share. Many people will wonder why you didn’t just email your slides and ask everyone to read them. Aside from making yourself superfluous as a presenter and fomenting rebellion in your audience, you’ll also have way too many slides!
  3. Reveal everything at once: One of the most common reasons for not providing printed copies of slides in advance is to prevent people from reading ahead and pre-empting your desired process. A well-crafted presentation has a distinct flow and contains a few deliberate surprises or revelations. You want to share information at your pace. Within each slide you can do this by using various masking, slide-building or animation techniques. The key is to reveal information gradually for greater impact and to keep your audience with you, not ahead of you.  
  4. Splash on too many colours – or really awful colours: While there may be situations when neon green, electric orange and lavender make sense in a presentation, mostly they don’t. Choose colors that don’t leave a retinal after-image or make the content difficult to read.
  5. Jazz it up with cute or funky fonts: Your presentation is meant to support the message you’re communicating, not obscure it. Funky fonts are hard to read. Your safest bet is to use web-friendly, easy-to-read fonts like Arial, Calibri, Tahoma, and Verdana. Use bold sparingly to draw attention (not for every bullet point like this unfortunate example!). And, for the most part, avoid italics.
  6. Clutter your slides with a busy background template (or cause confusion with an irrelevant background): You may have a standard presentation template created by your company for use in all presentations. If it was professionally produced, it likely includes low-key branding that doesn’t clutter up your background and provides an unobtrusive palette for good text-color contrast. On the other hand, background templates that change with each slide, include complicated images or patterns, or display themes that have no connection to the content of your presentation are definitely not helpful.
  7. Go crazy with the sound effects: Including, for effect, one quotation that types itself onto the screen, accompanied by the clicking of a keyboard, might be entertaining. When every bullet point is ushered in by the same sound effect, teeth will start to grind. The same applies to bells, swooshes, and camera shutter sounds. Even music can become an irritant if used inappropriately. Use sound effects sparingly and only to enhance the meaning of your content.
  8. Set embedded videos to autoplay: PowerPoint makes it easy to embed video directly into your presentation. Video is a great way to engage an audience, provide entertainment value or help make a difficult point. If your video starts playing automatically before you’ve had a chance to set the stage, it may lose the intended impact. Also, autoplay doesn’t always kick in right away. When a video stalls, most presenters try to click play, which then advances the slide. Your best bet is to set up the video to be started on a click. That way you retain control and can set up the video and start when you’re ready.
  9. Mix and match animations from slide to slide: Too many animations in a presentation will irritate an audience. Different animations from one slide to the next will make them cry for your blood. This is especially true if the animations you select involve a lot of movement; for example, one slide has each bullet point spiral in and the next slide has each bullet point fly in from a different side of the screen. You’re only two slides into your presentation and half of your audience is already suffering from motion sickness! Use animation sparingly and stick with one or two moderate animations in any one presentation.
  10. Automate your animations when you haven’t mastered the timing: Finally, don’t let PowerPoint take over your presentation. If you’ve ever done a TED Talk, you’ll know that it can be stressful having your slides advance automatically. In an effort to keep things simple, some people create fully automated presentations with each point entering at a timed interval and slides advancing automatically. That might work if you’ve delivered a presentation twenty times and have the timing down pat, to the second. For most people, panic would set in if something happened to interrupt their flow and the presentation continued without them.

Presentations can be an excellent way to share information with a group of people. An effective slide deck can help you stay on track while keeping people interested, engaged and entertained. So,don’t sabotage your message by misusing and abusing the presentation software or by letting it run your show.


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