death by powerpoint

Are you guilty of Death By PowerPoint?

PowerPoint is an invaluable, powerful and exciting tool for creating presentation visual aids that transform average speakers into masterful presenters. Or is it? 

PowerPoint presentations have been so dreadful and tortuous over the years that the phrase, ‘death by PowerPoint’ was coined. If your business slides are making people want to poke their eyes out with a sharp instrument, you surely need to rethink hat you’re doing with your visual aids.

Try the, ‘Will My Slides Cause Death By PowerPoint?’ test 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you lack confidence as a presenter? Would you be horrified at the thought of presenting to an audience without the use of visual aids?
  2. Are you guilty of using PowerPoint slides to take the focus off yourself?
  3. Do you use PowerPoint slides as convenient palm-cards? Do you find yourself looking back at your slides to remember what to say?
  4. Do you use PowerPoint to write your presentation?
  5. Do you try to use the entire functionality of PowerPoint as a way of improving your presentation? (Have you even sent your Personal or Executive Assistant on a PowerPoint training program?)

If you find yourself answering ‘YES’ to these questions, then there is a good chance you have been relying on your slide deck to carry you as a presenter, rather than simply as a visual aid to highlight the key messages for your audience. You may have great technical skill in designing visual aids, but it may well be at the expense of developing your ability to communicate with your audience, and to properly connect with your audience.


death by powerpoint

The purpose of slides is to reinforce your 3 key messages, not to remind you, the presenter, what to say next. Slides have the potential to create a visual, kinesthetic and maybe even an auditory connection between your audience and your message. In other words, they help stimulate your audience in a variety of ways that will help them to remember your content.

An ideal presentation with slides doesn’t cause ‘death by PowerPoint’. Delivering your message with confidence and charisma is simple, as long as you don’t use slides that disengage your audience. I believe the main reason many people don’t use PowerPoint to its advantage is that they don’t know how to.

Related: How good is your elevator pitch

Here are some of the most important things you need to remember if you want to avoid death by PowerPoint. Remember these tips so you stand out when you present or speak in public for all the right reasons!

1. Ask yourself, which messages need to be reinforced with an image? Then create your slides.

Are you guilty of the ‘kid in a toyshop’ syndrome, where your enthusiasm for your newfound slide mastery is clouding your judgment as a presenter? The best way for you to avoid killing people with your PowerPoint is to remember that slides are only there to reinforce your points for your audience. They should be clear, simple and use beautiful graphics and images.

The best way to create perfect slides is to first write a winning presentation. Yes, you need to work out what you want to say first. Then, once you know what you want to say ask yourself, which messages need to be reinforced for my audience? Once you know the key messages that are important, it’s time to design some stunning slides that reinforce your key messages for your audience.

2. Slides are not there to remind you what to say next!

Most people who use slides use them to as a prompt to remember what to say next. This is not best practice. Your audience expects you to have planned out your presentation and rehearsed it so you know what you want to say. You shouldn’t use the slides to prompt yourself, they are only there to make it more meaningful or entertaining for your audience.  If you’re not sure how to write a speech so that you can remember it without notes, please contact me.

Also, don’t put too much information in your slides. Remember if the audience is sitting in their chairs squinting at the screen having to make an effort to read the content of your slides, then they are not listening to you. What’s the point? ‘Busy’ slides tend to duplicate what the speaker is saying, rather than add strength to the message. If you simply use slides to record your presentation, it will be difficult for you to ‘unpack’ your message in a creative way for the audience.

3. What do great slides do? 

Slides have the potential to create a visual, kinesthetic and maybe even an auditory connection between your audience and your

message. In other words, they help stimulate your audience in a variety of ways that will help them to remember your content. You want to be memorable for al the right reasons as a presenter.

An ideal presentation with slides doesn’t cause ‘death by PowerPoint’. And in fact, delivering your message with confidence and charisma is simple, as long as you don’t use slides that disengage your audience.

If this all sounds great, but you’re not doing it, it’s possible you’ve never been taught how to use slides properly.

So, I have listed my 10 tips for designing slides to help you set yourself up to be a powerful presenter who uses your slides as an aid to influence your audience to your way of thinking. Exciting!

Top 10 Tips for Designing Beautiful Slides

  1. Avoid distracting special effects. Fade-outs, dissolves and sound effects are not the point. The point is the message you are sending, and this is generally best reinforced with an emotionally evocative image, not fancy effects.
  2. Avoid clip-art. Try to use only your own photographs or purchase good-quality stock photos. Use beautiful clever graphics and not overused, tired ones. Replace words with pictures as much as possible. Use for pictures and pay for your images. Or try for free images!
  3. Avoid text-heavy slides. Don’t use paragraphs, quotes or complete sentences. Steve Jobs (Co-founder Apple) is quoted as suggesting: “no more than 9 words on a slide and get rid of bullet points all together.” I’m a fan of the 10-second rule which suggests for your slides to be effective, the audience should be able to read your slides through once and fully understand it in 10-seconds.
  4. Dramatically reduce the number of slides. Mix it up with handouts, flipcharts, whiteboards, gestures, movement in the space, facial expressions, video. It’s about visually stimulating the audience not killing them with too many slides!
  5. Use sentence case on slides rather than CAPITAL LETTERS. Capitals are difficult to read and some generations see capital letters as SHOUTING.
  6. Change the colour. Change the colour of the text rather than rather than using underline, bold or italics. Again, it’s all about the audience reading the slide in 10-seconds. If you apply too many fancy formats they won’t be able to read it quickly and then it’s distracting the audience rather than adding to your message. Colours have meaning – use colour carefully.
  7. Avoid small font. Use a minimum of 30-point font. Yes, minimum 30 point! Remove all those little page numbers, file locations and tiny logos that no one can see anyway. As much as possible, use font style Times New Roman or Verdana.
  8. When using graphs, be ruthless and take off the little numbers no one can read. It’s better to have more slides with big images/graphs and fonts that people can read than trying to cram it all into one slide so you reduce the number of slides. You can also colour code graphs so people see the point of the graph easily from a distance. By all means if you’ve got a lot of info you can cram it into a 1-page handout. And if that means having two versions of the graph: one with all the details on a handout; and the other, cleaner version on the screen then do it. Do whatever it takes for your audience to fully understand your point. If they can’t read it on the slide then why are you putting it there?
  9. Ensure any sounds/music add value to your message, don’t distract with it.
  10. Always have a back-up plan. The projector bulb will blow up – it’s Murphy’s law! Be sure to have a backup and be just as comfortable presenting without slides as you are with them.

For more information please join me in my Persuasive Presentation Skills Masterclass, or read my book, How to Present; the ultimate guide t presenting your ideas and influencing people using techniques that actually work (Wiley) available on my website:

Happy Presenting!