One of my very biggest pet peeves is people who read their PowerPoint slides—for me that’s right up there with screeching fingernails across a blackboard to grab attention, off-color jokes that unsettle the audience, and clipart clearly imported from a 1990’s image CD, as the most cringeworthy presentation killers.
And, I’m clearly not alone—the preponderance of poor PowerPoint presenters and presentations caused the coining of its very own derogatory phrase, “Death by PowerPoint.” Most sources attribute this phrase to a 2001 post by that name from Angela R. Garber. This post from almost two decades ago highlights many PowerPoint sins that are still painfully prevalent today:
- Data Dumping: Cramming too much information onto a single slide.
- The Wrong Speech At The Wrong Time: Using a single presentation for all audiences, and not taking into account to whom you are speaking (age group, interest, expertise, familiarity, etc.).
- The Slide Slave: Hiding behind slides, instead of making what you are saying the focal point of the presentation.
- The Handout Handoff: Picking a bad time to distribute handouts. The post suggest providing them before you start but asking your audience not to look until the end.
- The Dimmer Dilemma: If you dim you risk not only causing drowsiness but making the slides, instead of you (the speaker) the focal point of the presentation. Of course, sometimes you need to dim to make the presentation visible. Best: Get the audience’s attention first and then dim if necessary.
- The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Presentation: Presentations given without proper preparation of either the material or the room. This means not just honing both your presentation and your delivery, but also making sure you don’t have technical problems with equipment.
PowerPoint Continues to Slay Audiences
This short video from 2012 shows that a decade later not much had improved:
And those sins continue to grate on suffering audience members everywhere, as evidenced by the 2015 Annoying PowerPoint survey. 453 people (no word on how the sample was selected) completed the survey, and of those 27.4% of the respondents said they see at least one presentation per day every day of the work week (up from 22.6% in 2013). When asked about what annoys them most about PowerPoint presentations, the most common selections were:
- Speakers who read the slides (71%)
- Slides using full sentences for text (48.6%)
- Text that is too small to read (47.4%)
- Visuals that are too complex (36.9%)
When asked to provide, “three words or phrases that they hear most often when people talk about PowerPoint presentations in their organization” the most common word by far was “Boring” with “Long” and “Read” right up there at the top.
So, the more things change the more they stay the same. And though it appears to be universally loathed, PowerPoint is also universally used. This infographic provides some startling statistics, given the widespread near-death experiences associated with the program:
- There are over 1 Billion Installations of PowerPoint Worldwide
- Over 120 Million People Use PowerPoint for business and educational presentations
- 30 Million PowerPoint presentations are created every day
- PowerPoint is used at an estimated frequency of 350 times per second
That’s a lot of PowerPoint. (This post notes that the average PowerPoint presentation runs 250 minutes—almost 5 hours, Ouch!) And, it is unfortunately a lot of PowerPoint that goes something like this:
Tips for Breathing Life into PowerPoint Presentations
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little preparation, thought, and effort you can create effective PowerPoint presentations that help you educate, persuade, and connect with your audience rather than making them wish for a quick demise (or your quick demise).
So, first and foremost—please, please, please don’t read your slides. Your audience can presumably read, and can do that for themselves. They don’t need you there at a designated time and place to do it. They can do it while drinking coffee in the morning, late at night when they need help falling asleep, or any piece of free time during the day. If you are going to take up a defined block of their valuable time, make sure you are adding value above and beyond your deck. (And, if your audience can’t read—then there shouldn’t be any words on your slides to read in the first place.)
Second, keep your audience interested and entertained. Remember that they are there to connect with you as a presenter, not to watch your slideshow. Use a PowerPoint deck to emphasize and illustrate the main attraction (You!), not as the main attraction itself. That doesn’t mean you can’t use slide content as attention grabbers—with a startling statistic, compelling image, or engaging video—but that such content alone will fall flat if you do not step-in to support and enhance it.
These posts provide some useful tips for doing just that:
- PowerPoint Isn’t Dead Yet: Three Presentation Tips that Still Work in 2017
This Fastcompay post provides tips for using graphics for maximum impact. It suggests distilling your presentation into a single compelling image that will stick with your audience, using conceptual images rather than literal ones, and repeating imagery to consistently reinforce your message.
- How To Start A Presentation Tips And Tricks – 22 Powerful Strategies
This post addresses one of the most important components of a successful presentation—starting out on the right foot and grabbing your audience from the outset. The tips range from how to start (with silence, with a joke, with a shock) to what your opening should address (stating a problem, stating a purpose), to what you should do (memorize your opening, set parameters for questions, make eye contact with the audience).
- Delete the “Thank you!” slide – how to end your presentation
The only thing just as (or more) important that the beginning of your presentation is the end. That is your last chance to make a lasting impression and to drive home the key points you want to make. Thus this post suggests that a final slide with the text “Thank You” is a wasted opportunity. Instead it suggests finishing with a slide that summarizes your most important message and includes your contact information. Your audience may take a picture of this slide for future reference. The post also notes that if you leave this type of slide up during a Q&A period your audience has a long time to digest and internalize it and it may spark valuable questions that will help you advance your case.
- Saved From Death By PowerPoint
This recent Forbes post suggests that you can, “Solve the death spiral with minimally invasive slides.” The way to do this, the post suggests, is to, “design all your text as headlines rather than sentences. Sentences contain all the parts of speech that make them grammatically complete: articles, conjunctions, and prepositions; headlines are composed mainly of nouns and verbs and the occasional adjective.”
Free Templates and Images for PowerPoint Presentations
Finally, PowerPoint is a visual medium. If your presentation falls short visually then a quick death can only be averted by such a compelling performance that you probably didn’t need those slides in the first place. Remember, that the slides are designed to enhance and reinforce your message—not detract from it, and not to be completely irrelevant. Of course, not everyone has expert graphic design skills and not everyone knows when Comic Sans is appropriate or when Verdana is too boring.
Luckily, there is a seemingly endless supply of free PowerPoint templates and pre-made slides. Choose wisely and you can overcome coma inducing white while avoiding over-animated flashy effects more likely to trigger photosensitive epileptic seizures than to capture attention. Some good resources include:
- Microsoft Office PowerPoint Templates
- Free Business Presentations from the Slide Store
- Free PowerPoint Templates from Slide Share
- Free PowerPoint Templates and Themes from Slide Geek
And finally, check Pixabay for a large catalog of professional royalty free images you can use in any PowerPoint presentation without attribution. For other great sources for free images, see
22 More Sites for Free Public Domain Stock Images You Can Use for Any Small Business Purpose
Remember, a tool is only as effective as you are at wielding it. Death by PowerPoint isn’t inevitable. These tools will help you resuscitate it to create compelling presentations for your small business.
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