Success with Slides: A PowerPoint Presentation Guide

Part 1: The Seven Deadly Sins


During the last month I have seen some seriously challenged PowerPoint Slide decks. For a while there things were looking up in Silicon Valley; people were using more pictures, less text, more color, and congruent graphs. But I’ve recently noticed there are still pockets of stubborn “old school” PowerPoint users who simply refuse to change. I feel for their audiences who are craning their brains to stay tuned and awake.



Most people know what a poorly constructed and staged PowerPoint presentation can be. Yet some people insist on sticking to the same old “worst practices” and forging down the path of ineffectiveness – even when they know better.  Why?


Here are a few comments that I hear from my clients:


·         “I know these are crummy slides but this is what is expected in my company.”  

·         “If our senior management does not get this kind of slide deck they think we are unprepared.”

·         “I don’t have time to spend working on my slides; I’ve got a job to do!

·         “I’m not a graphic designer.”

·         “I know these slide are busy but they have all the information I need in case I forget something important.”

·         “I give these as handouts. My audience expects to have my entire presentation.”

·         “What’s wrong with these?”


PowerPoint cannot be all things to all people! You can see from the comments above that many people think that this one simple software program can do everything.


They expect PowerPoint to be:


·         Speaker notes so they don’t forget a key point (intended for the speaker)

·         Visual aids to enhance their presentation (intended for the audience)

·         Handouts at the end of the program (intended to fit a business norm)


But PowerPoint cannot serve these three masters without diluting the overall experience for the audience. Let me say this again: PowerPoint cannot be all things to all people!


The Seven Deadly Sins of PowerPoint Design


In order to make your slides more effective, you need to know which mistakes to avoid. Here are my seven deadly sins of PowerPoint. Avoid these and your presentations will serve the audience—and that’s just what it’s supposed to do.


1.     Dense sentences in small (6-8) point font: If you have to make your font that tiny to get all the information on the slide, you’re saying too much.


2.     Disregard for basic design elements: If you want people to look at your slide don’t load it up with too much text, confusing graphs and unrelated photos.


3.     Impenetrable number slides: Numbers are important elements of a business presentation; but when they appear in long columns of 6 point font they do nothing but overwhelm an audience. 


4.     The wrong design template: Templates are great, they can save you time and make you look prepared but they must be consistent with your topic, the situation and the audience.


5.     Text only word slides: We are a visual society and images keep us engaged. Using just word slides limits the possibilities for audience involvement and retention of your message.


6.     Multi layered graphs and charts: Small images, complex data graphs and infinitesimal text do not support easy access to your information. Most people cannot comprehend so much information at once.


7.     Complete sentence passages: Full text quotes, definitions or descriptions cause conflict for your audience. They don’t know whether to listen to you or read your slide. Either way people will be overly taxed and will tune out.


A Vehicle for Knowledge Transfer

There is only one goal for a PowerPoint slide presentation. It should be a visual tool to help your audience absorb, process, understand and be inspired and entertained by your message. That’s it. Your job is to equip your audience with the knowledge they need to take action, make a decision, change a timeline, buy a product, run a marathon, lose 50 pounds, you name it.


So avoid the seven deadly sins of PowerPoint slide creation and your listeners will thank you as they watch you present.  PowerPoint has the muscle not only to enhance your message, but to boost your professionalism and credibility. It can help you showcase your expertise and persuade listeners to your point of view. But it will take effort on your part to make this happen.


Stay Tuned

My next blog Part 2 will give you clear insight and direction on the best practices and show you on how to make your PowerPoint slides come alive!


Here are some helpful sites for more PowerPoint information:

Blogs dedicated to PowerPoint:


Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen

Jan Schultink’s Slides that Stick

Geetesh Bajaj’s A PowerPoint Blog