PowerPoint Sins – The Step-by-Step Guide to Absolution

Sunday, September 26th, 2010 by Simon Morton

I was recently asked for an interview by the fine people at Indezine.com (a veritable treasure trove of presentation and PowerPoint hints and tips) regarding PowerPoint sins.  Indezine did such a fine job at distilling my rant into a useful article, I thought we’d also add it to our own blog:

Indezine: What according to you are the highest ranking PowerPoint sins?  Tell us about them

DEvil-StickerWe’ve seen an interesting increase in the perception of PowerPoint sins over the last few years.  Phrases like “Death by PowerPoint” are now commonplace and with high profile media stories surrounding hideous PowerPoints slides being used by the likes of the US Military, fuel is frequently added to the flames.

The most glaring “PowerPoint sin” is the use of too much text on a slide.  This, combined with a blizzard of bullet points, will strike fear into the heart of most audiences.

Coming a close second are the aesthetic crimes people commit – the clichéd stock images (we’ve banned “shaking hands” in our studio!), redundant clipart (duck hitting computer with mallet springs to mind) and downright inconsistencies with fonts, templates and colour schemes (normally down to some careless copy and pasting by the user!).

Controversially, I’d suggest that these are the least of the PowerPoint sins and certainly the easiest to fix.

More telling is the lack of thought that goes into presentation planning.  We believe that most “Death by PowerPoint” occurs as a result of a lack of structure and/or focussed message.  This is the result of the presenter either not understanding their audience or, even worse, not particularly caring if their message is of any relevance to the poor people in the audience.

This lack of focus is often seen in sales pitches where the majority of the presentation is dedicated to telling everyone how big and successful the company is whilst forgetting to explain why their product or service might be of any value to the comatose audience sitting in front of them.

This usually manifests itself in slide after slide of financial charts, pictures of their impressive Head Office and, in one particularly shocking example, a full organisational chart with pictures of each member of the board!  The audience must be silently screaming “SO WHAT?!  THIS IS IRRELEVANT!!”

Finally, carefully planning your presentation (a process we call Presentation Optimization) allows you to think differently about the medium to use.

  • Does your PowerPoint need to be linear?
  • How about building in interactivity to help build engagement with your audience or allow you react to their questions?
  • How about using something we call Blended Presenting by which we mean applying different mediums at different points, for example moving from PowerPoint to Whiteboard to build further engagement with the audience?

So in short, PowerPoint sins run much deeper than simply banning bullet points!  It’s about re-thinking the entire purpose and process of your presentation and building up from there.

Indezine:  To not sin at all, that may be possible if people knew they were doing so – but most users just don’t give that sort of attention or thought to the slides they create – how can they be educated?

We get ourselves very hot under the collar when it comes to the value attributed to presentations.  Eyeful’s 2010 Business Presentation Survey highlighted the continually important role presentations play in sales pitches, internal communications and financial reporting.

Yet despite this, presentation decks are normally created in-house with little or no expertise.  We call this the Presentation Paradox and have even created a White Paper highlighting the gap between the impact quality presentations have versus the typical investment made.

The Presentation Paradox

So how to address the issue and educate purveyors of poor PowerPoint?

Your first step should be to watch the people who deliver focussed, compelling and effective presentations.  Steve Jobs is the stock answer to this and yes, he’s very good…but in his position, he should be!

But don’t just follow the superstars – look how “normal” people in your own business or industry deliver their presentations.  What works?  What doesn’t?  Write down your thoughts and incorporate them into your next presentation.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to speak up!  Bad presentations have sadly become the norm because audiences have not made their feelings known.

Audiences deserve better than the typical “death by PowerPoint” presentations that are inflicted upon them – it’s that simple.  As a result, we’ll often approach speakers after conferences, not to pitch our services to them but to offer feedback on what worked as well as what elements might benefit from new ideas or a different approach.  To date, presenters have taken this feedback on board gladly (for this read no-one has punched us yet!) because everyone wants to improve.

Finally, we’d recommend downloading a new eBook, Beating Death by PowerPoint in your Business – http://www.eyefulpresentations.com/beatingdeathbyppt

Share it freely with your colleagues and perhaps through a collective effort, we may be able to drive the quality of presentations up a couple of notches.  We can only try!

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3 Responses to “PowerPoint Sins – The Step-by-Step Guide to Absolution”

  1. Barry Dunne says:

    the hyperlink to your useful e-book contains extra incorrect address details at the start

  2. […] Don’t forget to give yourself plenty of time to prepare supporting visuals (and no, that doesn’t always have to mean PowerPoint!) […]

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