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Giving an effective PowerPoint presentation is an art. We’ve all sat through a dreadful slideshow that we couldn’t wait to escape from. Whether due to a drab speaker or lousy slides, there’s usually room for improvement.
The good news is you can prevent your audience from hating your next presentation! Let’s review the most common mistakes people make when preparing and giving a PowerPoint presentation. Knowing these recurrent blunders gives you a leg up, and helps you nail your next important talk.
1. You Load Up Slides With Text
Perhaps the biggest mistake people make in presentations is overloading every slide with text. This detracts from your talk for several reasons. For one, people are naturally inclined to read everything on the screen. If it takes them half a minute to digest everything, they aren’t listening to you during that time.
When you know what not to do with PowerPoint presentations it's easy to pick up presentation disasters.
Too much text and small fonts
— Zibuse (@zibuse) July 13, 2016
If you have too much text on a slide and advance the slideshow before someone has a chance to read through everything, they might get upset and stop paying attention to the slideshow at all. Less is more with text. Don’t be afraid to use space to add emphasis to what’s present, or break a particularly meaty section into two slides.
When in doubt, remember that people are either going to pay attention to your slides, or pay attention to you. If you tend towards wordiness, stick to bullet points and short phrases instead of sentences. For a rule of thumb, limit yourself to five bullet points per slide, with no more than five words per bullet point.
2. You Use Stupid Transitions
Every new version of PowerPoint includes more wacky transitions, but you shouldn’t use them. Aside from being resource-intensive on weaker machines, many slide transition effects are distracting and don’t add anything to your talk.
You should certainly use a transition to keep the slideshow interesting, but stick with something simple like a wipe or slide. And never, ever select the Random option since it will undoubtedly choose the wildest transition at the worst time. You don’t want your audience to worry more about what transition is coming next than what you’ll say next.
3. You Mix Fonts and Colors
While you don’t want your slideshow to feature black Times New Roman text with a white background, it’s easy to overdo it in the other direction, too. If you choose to get colorful, stick to a few colors that blend well and use them for emphasis.
The same goes for fonts. You should choose a font that’s easy to read. As fancy as handwritten script looks, it’s probably impossible to read if you’re not standing right in front of the screen. Try to stick to one font throughout the entire presentation, and definitely don’t mix fonts on the same slide!
Few colors and fonts make for solid presentations because they mean consistency. It’s childish to cram as many pretty fonts and colors onto one slide as you can. It looks messy, and while Georgia font isn’t too exciting, people would prefer to read your text instead of admiring how fancy it looks.
4. You Read Slides Verbatim
This one might take the prize for worst possible trait during a PowerPoint presentation. Reading your slides word for word will bore the audience, and makes you seem rigid instead of dynamic.
Remember two important notes to help with this problem. First, PowerPoint slides don’t need to contain every little bit of information you’re discussing. Use them as little attention-grabbers so your audience understands the current topic, but wants to listen to you explain more.
Second, your PowerPoint slides are not for your use! Your slideshow is not the presentation — the presentation is your talk. PowerPoint slides are simply a tool you use to better communicate. You shouldn’t need your slides to stay on topic. Practicing will help with this.
If you have trouble remembering what you want to say, use the notes section of each PowerPoint slide. Then when you display the slideshow, your monitor will display a snapshot of the current and next slide, along with any notes you’ve jotted for that slide. Stopping to turn around and look at your slides, or reading them aloud, will not effectively bring your message to the audience. Anyone in the audience could stand up and read the slide, but you know the material.
5. Your Charts Are Complex and Useless
Adding media other than text (in moderation) to a slide makes it more interesting and grabs the audience’s attention. When you’re representing data in the presentation, charts are an easy way to show the relevant information in one image.
Charts are great, but it’s important that you don’t go overboard with them. The audience won’t have the patience to decipher all sorts of colors, trend lines, keys, and text. If the chart isn’t self-explanatory for the average audience member, or if you can’t explain it in a sentence, you need to make it less complicated.
6. Your Template Is Boring
Take the extra few minutes to find a template that fits your presentation, or even make your own if you’re so inclined. While some of the built-in PowerPoint templates might seem a little generic, you’ll likely find one that’s sharp without being overbearing. Don’t choose anything that’s too wacky with all sorts of colors, but feel free to find something unique.
Black text on a white background is ugly, but white text on a black background is passable if you don’t have any other options. If you need some help, check out awesome free PowerPoint templates for everyone.
7. You Minimize PowerPoint for Other Media
As great as PowerPoint is, often you have to leave the slideshow to put some other content on the screen. Maybe you want to show a relevant YouTube video or visit the company’s website. While this is sometimes unavoidable, it’s jarring to jump back and forth between windows, even with slick keyboard shortcuts.
That’s why you should embed everything you can inside your presentation. We’ve shown how to embed YouTube videos inside PowerPoint and it’s easy to take a screenshot of any website to paste into your slides. If you can avoid leaving the slideshow, do so for a smoother experience.
8. You Don’t Remove White Space From Images
Here’s a common error that only takes a few seconds to correct. Often seen in college lecture slides and the like, many folks tend to copy and paste images from a Google search into their slides. The trouble is that most of these images include an ugly white border around them, which looks amateurish.
You can remove this white border easily using a free image editor like Paint.NET. Just open the image, and use the magic wand tool to select the white space around the image. Press Delete to remove the white space, then hit File > Save As and make sure you save the image as a PNG. A PNG file makes that deleted space transparent, while JPEGs don’t support transparency.
Paste the fixed image into your slideshow and it will look so much better!
9. You Don’t Ensure Everyone Can See the Material
Preparation is an essential part of every presentation, but you should do more than just practice your talk. Failing to ensure that people will be able to see everything you’ve put together could torpedo all your work.
If you have the chance, test your slideshow in the room where you’ll be speaking, on the equipment you’ll use. Make sure that no graphics or text appear cut off on the projector, and test out various seats in the room to confirm that the text isn’t too small from far away. This might sound excessive, but it goes a long way in producing a professional presentation.
What Presentation Mistakes Do You Hate?
PowerPoint is a relatively simple tool, but it’s clearly difficult to master. From mistakes in slide creation to blunders during your talk, there’s a lot that could go wrong when you’re responsible for a presentation. You can improve many of these with practice, which will improve your confidence, too.
In the end, a prepared presentation can salvage poor slides. However, a lousy slideshow damages the audience’s impression of you, so it’s best to nail everything if you can. Using these tips, your slideshows will be cleaner, flow better, and further engage the audience! You can’t ask for much more than that.
What do speakers do with PowerPoint that makes you cringe? Let us know your most hated slideshow mistakes down in the comments!
Image Credit: cunaplus via Shutterstock