by Adam Noar
It’s been 6 six years since Jesse Dee launched his award-winning SlideShare You Suck at PowerPoint! and I regret to say most presentations today still SUCK … big time!
It’s such a shame because PowerPoint is such an amazing tool. If used effectively that is!
As marketing influencer Seth Godin once said, “PowerPoint could be the most powerful tool on your computer. But it’s not.”
He is so right about this it’s not even funny!
Believe it or not, PowerPoint is an amazing tool because it allows for the communication of very complex ideas without being dense.
Yes, you could send a memo, but let’s face it: nobody wants to read boring text. They want to be stimulated, not put to sleep.
In today’s world companies are getting faster and faster. People just want you to get to the point, but they still need to know the why’s and how’s and what’s. Enter PowerPoint.
Most people suck at PowerPoint because often they don’t know the secrets to what makes a good looking presentation.
Today I’m going to point out some of the common mistakes you may be making and show you how powerful PowerPoint can be.
#1 You Don’t Know Your PowerPoint Tools
Thomas Carlyle said it best: “Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.” We wouldn’t be where we are now without the help of tools like PowerPoint.
When you fully grasp its potential, PowerPoint works wonders.
We talk about PowerPoint hacks and tips all the time here at Presentation Panda but a lot of these hacks are somewhat dependent on your knowing how to use some essential PowerPoint tools.
If you’re not familiar with your PowerPoint tools then Slides Made Simple may be just what you need. We cover what’s essential and how to set up your PowerPoint so you can access them quickly.
Most people don’t know half of the tools at their disposal when it comes to designing slides. By having some knowledge of tools beyond “insert shape” and “insert textbox” you will begin to see what’s possible when it comes to presentation design.
This doesn’t mean you need to learn every single feature of PowerPoint, but why not learn about the presentation tools that are most useful for you?
#2 Your Presentation Has no Flow (AKA Your Story Sucks)
Even the most data-centric, quantitative presentation has some life to it. Remember that when you’re giving a presentation you’re telling a story – so make sure it flows, is compelling, and could be recited back to you by a fifth grader when you’re done.
Have you ever gone shopping at the grocery store without a list, and noticed you kept bouncing back and forth between different sections, looking for a cucumber here, a gallon of milk there? Whereas when you go shopping with a list, you go through each section one by one, get what you need, and then leave?
A lousy PowerPoint deck is like taking your audience through the grocery store, needlessly doubling back to get something that should’ve been taken care of earlier.
On the other hand, a well-organized PowerPoint has a natural flow to it. There is a clear direction that you are going in: First your intro, then a discussion of the business at hand, why it’s important, what your solution is, and finally a conclusion.
Learn how to tell a story and structure your presentation so that the slides help tell that story.
If you struggle with keeping your story on topic, it never hurts to check out what an amazing PowerPoint presentation looks like. Strive to make your slides flow from one logical point to the next. This means that you need to be using the Slide Sorter constantly in order to rearrange your slides around and tell a smooth flowing story.
#3 You’re Still Living In the Past When it Comes to Presentation Style
Are you still designing presentations like its 2001?
You’re probably not making the cardinal sins that were once considered “good taste,” like text animations with sparkles.
But just because you’re not actively desecrating your own slide material doesn’t mean you have nothing to work on.
Here are some signs you may be behind the times with your presentation style:
- You fill your slides with boring bullets with a boring picture to the right or left
- You use big arrows that point to something trivial on the slide
- You fill your slides with random inconsistent images that you quickly found on Google
- You use Times New Roman or Calibri for your slide font
- You use the faceless alien (like ones seen in the image above) doing silly cliché gestures like holding up a microphone or holding up a piece of a puzzle
Don’t mistake this for blame — it’s not your fault!
You’ve probably been exposed to these boring types of presentations day in and day out your entire life. You simply replicate what you’re used to seeing.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even if design isn’t your thing, it’s really easy these days to have a spiffy-looking presentation.
What can you do instead you might ask?
Insert gorgeous, free hi-res images from Unsplash or WildTextures. Find the right combination of fonts by utilizing the excellent and free Type Genius, which is now a part of the free Canva design suite. Or you could download a kickass presentation template from Graphic River like our Influencer Template.
The nice thing about many of these tools is that they are 100% free. It would be one thing if it cost you lots of money to make a quality PowerPoint presentation, but it doesn’t. All it takes is a Google search, really.
With tools like these, it is possible to create PowerPoint Presentations that are DYNAMIC and show information in a modern powerful way using techniques like parallax scrolling and Prezi-like transitions which let you navigate through the presentation in exciting new ways.
We talk about different presentation design trends all the time. Are you trying them?
#4 You’re Using Too Many Slides
Have you ever sat through a business presentation and thought at the end, “Wow, I wish the speaker would keep talking.”
No one has. Most business talks are way too long. Avoid this common mistake by limiting your presentation to the least number of slides as possible. This is especially the case when presenting to Senior Execs!
As Ira Hayes once said:
“No one ever complains about a speech being too short!”
Presentations require a high degree of cognitive processing (thinking, listening, speaking) on behalf of your audience. The average attention span of an adult human being is longer than a puppy’s, but that doesn’t mean you should pile on the information, either.
If your presentation is fairly long consider building in soft brain breaks that recharge people’s attention spans and also provide room for engagement. For example, show a short video clip that ties in with your topic. Have a mid-presentation Q&A if you’ve just covered some particularly vital information. Let people step outside for five minutes to drink a glass of water.
You should also review the story of your presentation (tip #2). Check and see if there are places where you repeat yourself, or see if there are ways that you can condense two similar ideas into one slide. When you review your presentation with colleagues this is something you should get their feedback on. In the end, less is more.
#5 Your Presentation Images are Boring, Cheesy, Outdated … or Simply All of the Above!
Presentations that are filled with a weak set of images always suck!
You can’t expect your audience to be thrilled when your presentation uses stock images of people in suits that looks like they were clipped directly out of Office Space.
As we have pointed out in the past, people are HIGHLY VISUAL. This means that we are turned on by things that look nice and are turned off by things that don’t look nice. Or boring, low-res, compositionally fragmented – you get the idea.
Incorporating lame images (like the one seen above) is a surefire way to turn people off your presentation. Unless your goal is to make potential clients not want to hire you, or to drive away angel investors, in which case full speed ahead.
We’ve already mentioned Unsplash, but we’ll say it again: their website is probably the best database for awesome, free, high resolution images on the internet. Use Unsplash images and wow your presentation audience without having to say a word.
#6 Your Slides Are Messy
You dress up for a big presentation, put on your best cologne or perfume, and wear freshly dry-cleaned clothes. Your slides should look equally sharp.
When it comes to creating beautiful PowerPoint presentations, all of your content must be NEAT and ORDERLY.
This means that the alignment and distribution tools are your best friends. If you have no clue what these tools are I suggest you stop reading this article and get yourself a copy of Slides Made Simple. It’s these tiny details that make the difference between a professional appearance and a sloppy one.
Here is a list of the most often overlooked details you should keep neat and orderly:
- Text boxes
- Font spacing
Beyond using alignment and distribution tools you should turn on the Grid feature to help guide you into alignment. When we talk about the “Grid” were not talking about the movie Tron, or AI website design . Instead, were talking about a tool that guides you into laying out objects properly. The Grid will save you the headache of eyeballing your PowerPoint format, and ensure a neat, clean look that every presentation should have.
#7 Your Slides Are Not Consistent
The details of your slide presentation all add up to a single, (hopefully unified) aesthetic. As soon as that aesthetic changes, your presentation stops looking professional.
The easiest way to avoid slide inconsistency is to choose a professional PowerPoint template that’s already done the whole job for you.
Do yourself a huge favor and pick out a nice understated, professional presentation template that isn’t too loud or distracting. We’ve talked about what makes a good presentation template in the past and if you need to see some solid examples of cool looking presentation templates click here.
One of the major bonuses of buying a ready-made template is that it saves you tons of time from having to come up with a design from scratch. Do you know how many hours go into making a 300-page slide template? You don’t want to!
A great presentation template will simplify the process and sharpen the quality of your next presentation, helping you deliver engaging, professional results every time.
With a cut and paste method making building easy, you can fully customize your project with logos, graphics and color palettes of your choosing, with a minimalist information-oriented design to keep the distracting filler at a minimum.
Whether you’re looking to present basic lists and tables or complex business layouts and frameworks, professional design templates takes the time-consuming tedium out of your presentation-building process.
But, regardless whether you start with a predesigned template or not your presentation needs to be CONSISTENT all the way through. You may not think your audience will notice the details but trust me they do! Especially when presenting to Senior Management.
If in doubt, splash out a few bucks on a top quality PowerPoint presentation template. You’ll be in good hands.
#8 You Are Not Paying Attention to the Details
Form is function, and design legend Charles Eames said it best: “The details are not the details. They make the design.” This is so true when it comes to presentations.
Is your spacing even? Are your images the same resolution? Did you spellcheck all of your display text to ensure you haven’t made any embarrassing mistakes?
Here’s a checklist of some vitally important design details to go through while you review your slide presentation design:
- Your images are all roughly the same resolution quality and the same size.
- Your header fonts are the same on each page, and display text font is the right corresponding size and style.
- Especially if you have copy-pasted something from a different website, it’s possible to accidentally mix up colors and have grey text in one area and black in the next. Check for that.
- Are your slide objects (shapes, pictures, text, etc.) properly aligned? Use The Grid if you’re not sure. And use the alignment tools to quickly get them into guess what? … alignment!
- How much breathing room does each slide have? Do some of them seem more cluttered than others? Consider deleting content or shifting it onto new slides.
If you follow through that checklist, the small details will compliment and accentuate your design, rather than making it look unprofessional.
#9 You’ve Got Way Too Many Words on Your Slides
When six words will do just fine, why write ten?
When your fill your slides with too many words you make it nearly impossible for anyone to concentrate on what you’re saying. And most likely, your message will suffer because of that.
Most exceptionally good presentations I have come across follow what Carmine Gallo calls the “10-40 rule”: the first 10 slides contain no more than 40 words total. Following this rule forces you to tell the story behind the data, which is always more interesting and memorable than simply dumping the information on your audience and rambling off into space.
If that’s not something you feel comfortable with, consider using the free Hemingway Editor. If there is one famous author whose ideas were suited to PowerPoint, it was no doubt Hemingway. This app is a great tool for parsing down your ideas to the bare minimum amount of words necessary. Give it a go!
One last bit of advice about too many words: Nancy Duarte once said that you should think of presentations like billboards. Your audience should understand your slide in LESS THAN 3 SECONDS. This will encourage your slide text to focus on the big ideas; you can fill in your audience with the small details while you talk to them. If you keep this rule in mind when creating your slides you should have no problem keeping your text to a minimum.
#10 You’re Not Using Animations and Transitions the Right Way
There’s a bit of disagreement in the content marketing community about accents such as animations and transitions:
Many people like Seth Godin preach not to use animations at all in a presentation because over the years they have been exposed to the disastrous misuse of them.
That’s totally understandable, because I also want to gouge my eyes out when I see some of the hideous slide animations people use!
But not all animations are evil, just like not every vegetarian is a jerk even though PETA is obnoxious.
Here at Presentation Panda, we recommend using animations. In fact, in our award winning Influencer Presentation template every slide has some level of animation to it. Seriously, if you don’t believe it, see for yourself!
The trick to incorporating animations, like with drinking margaritas, is MODERATION.
The same goes for presentation transitions. It’s one thing to have a quick, clean fade to black from one presentation to the next. On the other hand, if you’re using the PowerPoint transition that crumples the slide and turns it into a paper origami bird that flies away – despite the groans of your colleagues — there may be no hope for you!
The best time to use animations is when you want to walk your audience through key points on your slide one at a time, more as a quick visual buffer in between talking points. That way they don’t get overwhelmed with too much information all at once, and have a second to digest all that awesome new info you just gave them.
So, now you should have an arsenal of solid PowerPoint design tips at your disposal. Use them well! There’s no reason for you to rely on inconsistent, unprofessional looking PowerPoint presentations. The tools are there for you if you know where to look.
What’s something new about PowerPoint presentations that you learned about from this article? Please let us know!
Also, as you can see there are tons of cool design tools out there which are free to use. The ones that we mention, like Unsplash or Canva, are really just the tip of the iceberg. What are some of your favorite free presentation tools that you think we should know about?
Lastly, do you have a friend that could benefit from learning about these presentation design tips? If so, email them the link to this post.
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