Everyone has sat through bad PowerPoint presentations. You know the feeling — you emerge from the conference room feeling a little more confused than when you went in.
But have you ever given a bad PowerPoint presentation? If you have, then you can more than likely remember the blank stares on the faces of everyone in the room. It’s no fun.
PowerPoint is easy to use, but hard to use well, and people make the same mistakes when putting together their presentation. If any of these things are true, it’s possible you’ve been using this easy tool all wrong and delivering bad powerpoint presentations:
1. You Think Your Slides Are Your Presentation
Do you put all of your effort into creating a slide deck? Does your presentation consist of you simply reading text from the screen? If so, you have made one of the most common PowerPoint errors, which is forgetting that PowerPoint is just a tool to help you communicate with an audience.
Your slides should be used primarily as a prompt to cause your audience to think and to cause you to remember your next point.
Solution: Plan your presentation by thinking about your audience. What do they want to hear? What do they need to learn? Work on a strategy to communicate effectively with them, and then build a PowerPoint presentation that supports your plan with the least amount of text on the slide. Which brings us to the next point…
2. You Have Too Much Text
A PowerPoint presentation is not a Word document. Your audience doesn’t want to spend the whole time squinting at large blocks of text, trying to speed-read while you talk, which is exactly what will happen if you fill each slide with lots of text. No one is going to listen to a word you’re saying if they’re trying to get through the 8pt font you’ve filled that slide with.
Solution: The text on each slide should simply be a jumping-off point for you to talk about something. This is why bullet points work so well — it helps structure the presentation for both you and the audience while keeping their focus entirely on what you’re saying.
3. Your Slides Are Packed With Detailed Graphs
Are your presentations packed with all sorts of detailed graphs, charts and visualizations? Do all of them need to be there? As Echo Swinford, a PowerPoint consultant, says, “When I see a presentation that’s full of unreadable graphs and tables, what goes through my head is, ‘Wow, this guy wants me to see how hard he worked to crunch all these numbers.'”
Solution: Go through every visualization in your presentation and ask, “Is this helping me to communicate my message, or is it just there to make me look knowledgeable?” Also, ask if there’s a way to visualize your data more effectively than a standard graph. Creative visuals can really help your audience to understand and retain information.
4. You Don’t Have Any Notes
At the end of the presentation, your fascinated audience asks if they can get a copy of the slides. They get your email, take a look and find that there are no notes. Instead, each slide is just a collection of bullet points that don’t make a lot of sense without you there to explain them.
Solution: Notes are one of the most powerful and underused features in PowerPoint. You can use these as speaker notes to guide you through the presentation, but you can also use them to store detailed information that would be of use to other people. If you have lots of text on a slide, move it to a note so that it’s available when people want to read it.
5. Your Fonts Are Unreadable
You want to make your visuals pop, so you put every piece of text in a different font. To add a little extra oomph, you vary both text color and background color. Halfway through the presentation, someone complains that they have a migraine and asks to leave.
Solution: The most important thing to consider when choosing fonts and colors is whether or not your text is easy to read. Ornate fonts are not easy to read, and a variety of fonts breaks up the flow. For colors, nothing beats a dark font on a light background. Take care to avoid certain combos — red text on a green background is impossible to read for a colorblind audience, for example.
6. There Are Too Many Animations
You’ve pulled out all the stops on this presentation and made it as dynamic as possible, with text animations, fancy transitions and even cute GIFs. For your audience, it’s a little like watching a surreal cartoon, and they find it hard to concentrate on your words when things are moving in such a distracting way on the screen behind you.
Solution: PowerPoint offers a number of features that help to bring your presentation to life. The hard part is knowing how and when to deploy them. As a rule, you want to keep the slides as simple as possible so that audience attention is focused on you. Animations can be great when used at the right time, such as introducing a new section or when you need a moment to pause before moving on.
7. You Have Too Many Slides
Every time you hit the forward button, your audience let out a sigh. You seem to have an infinite deck of slides, with no end in sight. Eventually, you can see their eyes glaze over as they check out and start drafting emails in their head.
Solution: Holding an audience’s attention is no mean feat. You can easily lose them by stuffing your presentation with hundreds of slides, all of which will blur into one another after a while. It also helps to give your audience a progress update — every five slides or so, add a slide that shows how far into the presentation you are, and give the audience a moment to digest.
PowerPoint is a terrific tool, but it is just a tool. It falls on you to ensure that you are using it correctly for the purpose of communicating and engaging with an audience. If your audience come away from your presentation with a real understanding of your subject matter, then congratulations: You are a PowerPoint master.