Are you guilty of Death By PowerPoint?

Are you setting yourself up to use PowerPoint as a lethal weapon?

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 go back to the fundamentals of the presentation software you use (PowerPoint, ever slides or Prezi).

Here are some of the most important things you need to remember if you want to avoid death by PowerPoint. Remember these tips whenever you are creating stunning slides that reinforce your key messages for your audience:

1. Concentrate on your verbal and non-verbal communication than your visual test.

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 making sure that you are sending a consistent message both verbally and non-verbally. 

Cues like the way you stand when presenting, your eye contact, gestures, posture, facial expression and even the frequency of your glances can affect how well you deliver your message. When it’s just you on stage, you have to establish nonverbal signals that will help people put their trust in you and stir their interest to your presentation. Good presentation also requires preparation. The way you carry yourself, your body movements, and even the clothes you wear are very important.

2. Try the, Will my slides cause death? 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.

What is the purpose of slides? What should they look like?

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: Will your approach to slides make you lose your next important pitch?

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.

Top 10 tips for designing beautiful slides!

  • 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 achieved with an emotionally evocative image, not fancy effects..
  • 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.
  • Avoid text-heavy slides. Don’t use paragraphs, quotes or complete sentences. Steve Jobs 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.
  • 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!
  • Use sentence case on slides rather than CAPITAL LETTERS. Capitals are difficult to read which defeats the purpose of the slide.
  • 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.

Related: PowerPoint Presentation Tips for Public Speakers

  • 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.
  • And 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 cram it all into a 1-page handout though. 

  • Dark text. Use dark text on a light background.
  • Replace words with pictures as much as possible. Use www.istockphotos.com for pictures and pay for your images
  • Only reproduce the important parts of graphs. And if that means having two versions of the graph: once 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?
  • Colour. Colours have meaning – use colour carefully.
  • Sound. Ensure any sounds/music add value to your message.
  • Always have a back-up plan. The data 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.