How not to use PowerPoint: 5 common PowerPoint mistakes that speakers make 

You lean forward in anticipation as the speaker takes their place, then your heart sinks as they turn to the projector screen and display their first slide.  It has ten bullet points, three animations and the slide number in the corner says 1 of 196.  You can feel the deep vein thrombosis forming in your thigh already.  Welcome to death by PowerPoint. 

You have probably been unfortunate enough to have experienced death by PowerPoint at some point in your career.  Of all the tools at your disposal as a speaker, PowerPoint (or Keynote for the cool kids with their Macbooks) is probably the most used and abused of them all.

So how can you use slides effectively to add to your presentation and help your audience hear and understand your message?  

Here are 5 common mistakes speakers make when using PowerPoint slides 

1. Don’t start with the Slides

Many people make the mistake of first creating a deck of slides which conveys the facts they want to share and then try to work out what to say about them.  This is backwards.  You should make your slides last.  First decide what you want to say, work out how to say it and then it will be clear whether you need any slides to help support your message.  Perhaps the only slide you need is the one with your presentation title on it?

2. Don’t create handouts as slides

Giving your audience a handout which reminds them of your key points, and helps them take your desired next step, is a great idea. However, do not simply use a copy of your slides. If you do this, your presentation slides will be too detailed as you try to make them work as a handout and your handout will be lacking in detail as you try to make it work as a presentation slide.  Let your presentation slides inspire your handout, but create a separate document designed to do the right job.

3. Don’t fill your slides - Less is more  

The key to effective slides is to have fewer of them, with fewer words.  The slides should serve to underline key messages in your talk – they are not the main form of communication.  I like the formula proposed by Guy Kawasaki: 10/20/30.  Use 10 slides for a 20 minute presentation – all text is at least font size 30.  If you stick to this, you will not overpower your audience with too many cluttered slides.

4. Don’t let the slides steal the spotlight

You are the star of the show, the slides are your backing singers.  The slides support you, not the other way around.  Make sure you stand forward, with the slides behind you. Look at your audience, not your slides.  If you need to see the slides as a memory aid then position the laptop screen controlling the presentation so you can see it while ignoring the big screen behind you. Don’t use animation on your slides – this is rarely the right choice and clip art never improves your slide. Never.

5. Don’t forget to check the spelling

If you have any grammatical or smelling errors (see how easy it is to do?) on your slides, this will massively distract your audience and undermine your credibility.  Check and double check your slides for any errors. Read your text backwards – this really helps spot typos. Check any copyright notices are the current year (or remove them if you can) and remove slide numbers (as these just make the audience focus on how much longer you will be talking for).

Learn how to master powerpoint and the other key elements of stagecraft on our Speakers Masterclass.