Powerpoint awfulness

On Friday I attended a conference on the future of the Australian wine industry. Some terrific presentations but some just awful. It amazes me that 18 years after the product was invented, people still don’t understand the basics of giving a Powerpoint Presentation. Some of these people are in senior executive roles; do they never get any training? Heads up, executive dummies:

Put your company logo subtly on every screen.
Put your name on about the first screen and your name and contact details on the last.
Don’t put sentences on a slide. A short phrase MAY be all right.
Don’t put more than 5 lines on a slide.
Don’t use more than two different fonts on a slide.
Don’t use more than two graphics on a slide.
Black Times New Roman on a white background makes you look BORING.
Don’t look at the screen and read your slides. For God’s sake.
Going to black and just talking for a while adds drama.
Don’t make it really long.

And here’s one I want to talk about in more detail. Be prepared to present WITHOUT your slides. As one presenter began talking his slides started cycling through too quickly. He had some visual gags in there and the technical problem thoroughly demolished his attempts at humour. Then the slides cycled through another seven or eight times before the problem was sorted. This was SO distracting his presentation lost all focus. What he should have done was turn to the people managing the presentation and say “stop it, I’ll talk without the slides”. The poor man ended up a victim of his own presentation.

Presentation Zen is Garr Reynolds’ fabulous blog that analyses Powerpoint Presentations and coaches people in how to do it better. Thoroughly recommended. I have a friend in Sydney who coaches in this area too. Contact details available on request.

So that’s that. I’m going to finish with two non-software do’s and dont’s.

Don’t DO NOT run over time. I know you love the sound of your own voice and your presentation is the biggest news since 9-11 but it is an act of extreme selfishness to run over time.

If you’re asked to shorten your presentation, do it. The audience appreciate it. Don’t be like one of our presenters who acknowledged he’d been asked to shorten his presentation then launched into a long, self-indulgent spiel about how he got started in the industry. Everyone in the room hated him for it.



  1. I’m with you on this comment, particularly your key DON’Ts. I’ve developed a presentation recently based around Cliff Atkinson’s method of Powerpoint development. It was a really effective way to do it, but my management FREAKED OUT when I didn’t use the ‘corporate template’ (featuring the logo on every slide) and that I used pictures and very little text. I really rocked the boat on that one.

  2. Unimaginative management don’t understand that a progressive and stylish presentation reflects well on the speaker and therefore on the company. Multiple presentations with the same template makes you look like a drone. Who wants to do business with a drone? I’d rather deal with the progressive thinkers.

  3. I’m not sure about shortening the presentation. If someone has been invited to speak, and has come from perhaps overseas, in the case of a conference, then I don’t know how you can reasonably ask them to shorten a prepared and rehearsed presentation. Not going overtime is one thing, but if you have prepared a talk that sticks to the agreed time, my advice is to just ignore any requests to shorten. (say yes, but don’t do it) It’s just rude. If they can’t get their shit together in time, then that’s their problem. Especially if you are an inexperienced public speaker, a request to shorten your presentation just before you go on can really throw you.

  4. Your points are noted bret, but a professional presentation designer & trainer, I believe you make the mistake of looking at the veneer & ignoring the strength of the support that goes behind that. One of th best presenters I have seen did a 3 day presentation using overheads on how to read a P&L and Balance Sheet. I saw him keep 40 people who hadnt graduated from high school enthralled on the most boring of subjects for this period.

    Why? Firstly, he lead the audience through a structure that they could follow & built upon itself. Secondly, the content was relevant to their interests & tailored that way, thirdly, he was a well rehearsed, practised presenter who put himself into the presentation and was more committed to the audience getting his message than trying to look cool. He was humorous yet sublime in the process.

    As for his “slides”…they were crap, they were types overheads.

    Put the other things in place before worrying about the slides. If they are done right, you wont even notice the slides.

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