Such Happiness In Thought Happens

February 17, 2008

Powerpoint no-nos (or how to make a bad presentation even worse)

Filed under: MS Office — Tags: , — Duane @ 7:20 am

A year or so ago I came across a couple of funnies in regard to the use of Powerpoint, or more correctly the incorrect way of using Powerpoint. It seems like everything else Microsoft – if you don’t get some training on the program, you just do what you feel like, or do what everyone else does. So in this post I will post a list of no-nos to avoid when using Powerpoint, and then tomorrow I will post some good ways to use Powerpoint. If you are brave, why not fess up to some of the no-nos you have done before?

The first part of this post involves a vid. Now because I don’t know yet how to embed it as part of the post, I will instead link to it – HERE . This can of course be found normally on youtube and the like, but this is the original link I was sent and the one I still refer back to when I need a laugh. It is a part of a comedian’s routine and focuses on the overuse of certain parts of Powerpoint – animations, text, etc. So have a watch and when finished come back here as I will detail some more no-nos.

  • “In this presentation.” Referring to your slides in a “meta” way, as in “I’m going to go over this presentation now.” Your slides are not your presentation; what you are saying is your presentation.
  • Misused clipart. Use (decent, relevant) photos, use (simple, easy to understand) icons, or use nothing at all. Especially not the silly cartoon clipart that’s way too easy to find and abuse. Really. Your audience will thank you for it. It is now easy to search for good photos/images that are free (non-copyrighted) for use. Look at most blogs – they have some form of pictures as part of the post.
  • Misused fonts. One font is fine. Use a clean, readable font that you know is present on the computer you’re going to print from and the computer you’re going to present on. Sans serif fonts like Arial are best for onscreen presentations. Really. If you absolutely must mix fonts, use sans serif for the titles and serif for the body text. This is also recommended in the use of Word documents – headings in sans serif, serif for normal text.
  • Squeezed graphics. Yes, if you take the sizing handle on one side of a picture, you can scale it in one dimension without scaling it in the other. This almost always results in a very peculiar-looking graphic that subtracts from the professional look you’re (hopefully) trying to achieve.
  • Meaningless charts. If your audience can’t figure out for themselves what the chart means within 5 seconds, reconsider using it or be prepared to talk about it for a long time. Charts are usually used to avoid talking about figures, or the presenter “believes” that the audience is as knowledgeable as themselves in regard to the topic, thus will understand any charts.
  • Circus colours. Keep your design down to two or three colors if at all possible; use tints and shades if you need more variety. Don’t use bold, garish colors that are going to tire your audience’s eyes.
  • Multiple emphasis. If you find yourself with some text that’s boldface, italic, underlined, highlighted, and colored, you really should consider simplifying. You should also check to see if different bits of text are emphasized in different ways. Subtlety and consistency is best.
  • Lingering over a slide. Show the slide, make the points that are on the slide, and move on.
  • Meaningless diagrams. Diagrams differ from charts and clipart in that they actually (are meant to) present narrative content: processes, workflows, stuff like that. If your audience can’t figure out a diagram within about 5 seconds, reconsider using it or be prepared to talk about it for a while
  • Giving printouts at the wrong time. This one’s a fairly big problem, but it’s a little more nebulous. Sometimes you want the audience to have a printout of your slides as a “takeaway,” other times you want the audience to have a printout so they can follow along and/or make notes. The second situation is harder to justify than the first, but I’ve seen it done. The problem you end up with is that unless your audience is fully invested in what you’re saying, they’re going to be tempted to flip through the printouts if they have them.
  • Slides packed completely full. “White” space is a design element too. “Continued” slides are just fine.
  • Tiny text. If you’re dropping below 14 point text just so you can fit everything in, split the slide and give that poor text some air. A related problem is PowerPoint’s new “Fit text to placeholder” feature that automatically and happily uglifies your slide by dropping your line spacing (anything under .85 needs serious reconsidering). In PowerPoint 2003, go to “Tools > AutoCorrect > Apply as you type” to turn this off. Go now. This is a common problem with university lecturers who want everything to be on the slide, and not enough room.
  • Failing to rehearse the slides. Your audience can tell if you whipped up your slides and then thought no more about them while preparing your presentation. Ideally, be so familiar with your slides that you know which one is up (and which stage in your build you’re at) by how many times you’ve clicked or keypressed or whatever. Realistically, it’s okay to glance at your slides every so often to make sure everything’s running smooth, but you can catch the unrehearsed presenter when he or she looks at the screen in surprise because that slide “wasn’t supposed to be there.”
  • Using different slide transitions throughout the presentation. The audience will then be focussing on what transition will next be used, and not focussing on your presentation.
  • Related to the above point about tranisitions – the use of different forms of custom animation. Animation is fun, and is an excellent way to introduce points of your slide, but by varying the animations, people are again focussing on the (mis)use of animations, not your presentation. Worse is when the presenter brings out all the bullet points with animations one after the other and then talks about each point. You are meant to talk about one point, then introduce the next point on the slide and talk about it. Why even use animations if you are going to wait until all the bullets are out before talking about them?
  • Reading the slides to the audience. This would be the number one thing nearly every presenter has done wrong at some point in their life. Remember, your slides are only there to apprise the audience of where you are in your presentation and illustrate your points. Your slides are not your presentation. Also some members of the audience will be able to read faster than you can talk, and it then becomes frustrating for them to have to listen to you (as the presenter) rattle off what is on the screen.

Ok I think that is it for the moment, can’t think of any other problems I have seen people do. The last one is the most common – presenters just reading what is on the slide. The aim of a presentation is to summarise what you talking about in the presentation and give the presenter somewhere to refer back to if they have forgotten where they are up to.

Do you have any others you have seen? Or do you want to fess up to any of the above?

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1 Comment »

  1. Funny video. Funny for all of us nerds who have sat through cringe-worthy ppts. I feel like crying when I see women do the fluoro pink and bevelled edged text-boxes. Ha.

    Another Moranbahite.

    Comment by Moth — March 3, 2008 @ 6:53 pm


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