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Do You Make These PowerPoint Mistakes in Your Presentations?

Shane Purnell
Jan 11, 2017


If you took a speech class before Microsoft® PowerPoint existed, you likely know what a “visual aid” is. Before PowerPoint, a visual aid was a drawing on a flip chart or a product you held. What made visual aids effective was you had to decide what to say about them and how to use them in your presentation before you presented.

Today, slide decks have replaced visual aids. Unfortunately, many presenters think step one of a presentation is to fire up PowerPoint and start creating slides. They don’t think about how they’ll use them or how they’ll impact the audience. Instead of using PowerPoint to create visual aids, they write their whole presentation in it.

If you want to create a great presentation, don’t start in PowerPoint. Starting in PowerPoint encourages two common presentation mistakes.

1. Long bullet point lists. 

No one wants to sit through this presentation.

powerpoint mistakes 1.png

When you create slide after slide of bullet points, you’re supplying ammunition for an assault known as “Death by PowerPoint.”

What if you did this instead?

Use simple shapes instead of bullet points. The slide below uses shapes instead of bullet points. It’s more appealing and easy to make.

powerpoint mistakes 2.png

Limit lists to three supporting points. “Wait, what? It can’t be done!” I can already hear the protests, but let me explain why I say only three points. Many presenters make long bullet point lists because they believe more data on a slide equates to a stronger case for their point. They think the audience needs all of the data supporting a particular point. I’ll tell you a secret… They don’t.

The audience needs to know there are strong reasons to support a point, not all the reasons to support a point. I’ve never seen anyone walk away from a presentation saying, “I wish that slide had more data.” By limiting your supporting points to two or three, you increase the audience’s ability to remember what you’ve said and your reasons for it.

Are there exceptions to this rule? There are always exceptions. A list may have six or more items and every one of them are needed. Break the list into multiple slides with two or three items per slide. The goal is to help your audience remember your points, not to fit all of the data on one slide.

2. Reading Your Slides.

Have you ever had a presenter read the slides to you? Me too. Why didn’t the presenter just email the slides and save all of us some time?

Reading slides may be a sign the speaker isn’t familiar with the material or it may be because the presentation was conceived, written and rehearsed in PowerPoint. When you build your entire presentation in PowerPoint, it’s easy to treat it like a document with graphics. You create what presentation expert Nancy Duarte calls a SlideDoca visual document developed in presentation software, that is intended to be read and referenced instead of presented.

To you, it all seems logical and coherent. You’ve included all the details so if you get stuck during the presentation, your slides can prompt you. The problem is there are so many points, you become dependent on your slide to remember your place; you start to read. When you do that, you’ve lost your audience.

Creating a presentation is more than just thinking of an idea and launching presentation software. By developing your presentation outside of PowerPoint, you learn to think through your ideas first. As you develop and support your points, you refine them and they become easier to remember because only the most important ideas are retained. This means you don’t need long bullet point lists as a crutch. Instead, you can choose which points need visual support and create slides to reinforce the impact you want to create.

PowerPoint is a wonderful tool that gets a bad rap because of how it’s used. The next time you have a big presentation, consider closing PowerPoint for a while. Develop your points first. PowerPoint will still be there when you’re ready for it. It’s great for creating visual aids, just make sure you develop your ideas and supporting material first.

Shane Purnell serves as a Product Manager for the Integration Development Group at Jack Henry & Associates where he helps product groups incorporate their products into a unified interface. When he’s not working he’s creating and sharing content through blogs, podcasts and speeches.

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