Death by Powerpoint


Like many people I have sat through a lot of presentations in my professional and personal life.  Unlike many people I have made hundreds (if not thousands) of them and so I have some strong opinions on what makes a good presentation and what can ruin one.

Powerpoint can fall into both of those categories.  Used wisely it can focus an audience’s attention and provide some key points for them to carry away.  Used badly it can send an audience into a catatonic stupor. Hence the often used phrase “Death by Powerpoint”.

Here are my top 10 tips to avoid death by powerpoint.

  1. Plan your talk first – Don’t start with the powerpoint and work backwards. Work out what you want to say, then you can pull out the main points to form the basis of your slides.
  2. Use your notes section – Don’t include your entire presentation on the slides. You may find it easier to write your notes section for each slide first and then pick the points you want to go on the slides.
  3. Know your audience – Use appropriate language and images to suit the background, culture, age, gender, ability and literacy level. Yes, I know this is blindingly obvious, but SO MANY people don’t seem to think about this.
  4. Keep it clean – Use fonts that are easy to read on screen and not too decorative. San serif fonts such as Arial or Calibri are recommended. Make sure you use dark text on light background and pick a colour scheme and stick to it. Use bolding for emphasis as it’s proven to be easier to read on a screen than underlined text, capitals or coloured text.
  5. Don’t include paragraphs – If you have a long quote you feel is important to share, read it out on the day, put it in your notes section and provide the notes. Don’t include it on a slide in 8 point just to fit it in. If nobody can read the quote, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of including it.
  6. Less is more – Aim for a maximum of 10 slides, 5 points per slide, 5 words per point.
  7. Keep animations to a minimum – They are so much more effective when used sparingly to make a point, not just to entertain. Used excessively they can be extremely distracting.
  8. Check your spelling and punctuation. Very carefully. Several times. Enough said.
  9. Timing is everything – As soon as a slide changes, or you add more text to a slide the audience will read it… so make sure it is relevant to what you are saying at that time.
  10. Practice makes perfect – The more you practice, the less you need to read the notes. The less you read the notes, the more you can engage with the audience. The more you engage with the audience the more likely they are to remember what you are talking about. And isn’t that the whole point?