Ten things you should NEVER say in a PowerPoint presentation

publication date: Dec 24, 2012
author/source: Lisbeth Cort

I just sat through another bad PowerPoint presentation. This one by a person with over 20 years experience in branding and marketing. Huh? How does this happen?

I’d arrived that night excited, anticipating new and interesting information on a topic I cared deeply about. After all, why else would I voluntarily submit myself to another “after work meeting?”

Why then – two minutes into the PowerPoint – did I find myself ready to chew my own arm off to get out of the trap that was the presentation hall that night?

This predicament inspired me to tap out the following tips on behalf of future audiences everywhere. We have a short attention span, a lot on our minds, and you’ve only got us for a few minutes. Make it count.

Let’s see, oh, this frame shows…

Don’t put the PowerPoint in the lead. Know your subject, use your presentation to back up what you’re saying, add interest, and keep it moving. We shouldn’t feel like you’re as surprised as we are by the next frame.

These statistics show…

Statistics don’t “show” anything. Tell the statistics if you need to back up your point but don’t put them on the screen. Give us a great related image to look at while you’re gaining credibility with numbers. We are concurrently visual and auditory learners. Your PowerPoint can be concurrently brilliant and engaging.

The building doesn’t exactly look like this today, there’s no… and the…, but…

If your point is to show how it looks today, then take the time to shoot a picture today. Digital cameras + Google Earth + instant downloads = no excuse for not getting out there and taking a current photo. Plan ahead, get the shot, and use images (not empty words) to illustrate your point.

How do I go back?

Test the presentation in advance. Be sure you know how to use the remote or mouse. If you use audio, be sure you know how to use it. Your audience is not your human guinea pig and it’s too late to call tech support when you’re at the podium. Suddenly we’re all focused on the LCD projector and forgot the point you were making.

Oh shoot, my laptop just went to sleep. Bear with me a minute...

Set your laptop not to go to sleep. Even better, don’t talk so long on one frame that it goes to sleep in the first place. Liven up your presentation with lots of images and frames. Otherwise, it’s not just the laptop that will be sleeping.

This picture’s a little dark, but if you could see it, it would show…

If the image isn’t great – and that means sharp and high resolution blown up to wall size – don’t include it. The only reason to have the darn thing in there in the first place is to illustrate your point. Better not to have an image than to have a bad one. Unless your subject is Goth, lose the dark pictures.

Here I’ve listed 10 reasons for…

If you just have to include a list, don’t put it all on one frame. Take a frame for each point and include different images to illustrate each point. Otherwise we’re all thinking of 10 reasons we wish we were someplace else right now.

You probably can’t see this, so I’ll read it...

Just because PowerPoint lets you include text doesn’t mean you should slap up a full page of words in 10 point font on the screen. No one can read them. No one wants to read them. You just lost your audience and the only thing we’re reading now is on our BlackBerry.

Oops, that’s embarrassing, I’m afraid that’s my cell phone...

Turn your own cell phone off and ask the audience to do the same before you begin your presentation. This seems like a no-brainer but it’s amazing how many times I’ve heard weird ringing coming from the suit pocket of the guy with the microphone. No one’s that important and this tells us your audience isn’t that important either.

I wish I had a picture to show you…

No one wishes this more than we do. Use text sparingly – headings if helpful, a few key points to emphasize, a final frame with contact or resource information the audience can look at while you’re answering questions.

A hip friend of mine always says, “There’s no excuse for bad design.” This is especially true in a field with compelling stories – the mother lode of compelling visuals.

PowerPoint is a powerful communications tool if used well; it’s absolutely deadly if not. Keep it tight, keep it moving, keep text to a minimum, keep it visually interesting. You’ve got an important message, you’ve got our attention. Don’t lose it because of bad visuals, boring text, ringing phones, or poor preparation.

Instead, use PowerPoint to your strongest advantage. Engage us, inform us, move us, compel us to care, and challenge us to take action. Leave us wanting more, not wishing for less.

Republished with permission, National Trust Forum, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036, 202-588-6296, www.PreservationNation.org.

Lisbeth Henning Cort, principal of Cort Communications (http://www.cortcom.com/), was executive director of the Utah Heritage Foundation and Washington Trust for Historic Preservation before opening her nonprofit consulting firm. For more information, 360-969-5543, Lisbeth@cortcom.com, http://www.cortcom.com.

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