PowerPoint revolutionized the slideshow.
Office presentations, teacher lectures, workplace training … All were changed forever when Microsoft debuted its modern special-effects suite in 1997.
But since those days, we’ve all become all-too-acquainted with those snooze-inducing PowerPoint pitfalls. The distracting animations. The superfluous graphics. And that age-old obstacle to successful presentations—the unengaging (or worse, unknowledgeable) speaker putting on the show.
There’s no doubt PowerPoint has the power to enhance or ruin a lecture or presentation. Which course you take is up to you. Make sure you steer clear of the following pitfalls and you’ll be a lot more likely to deliver bona fide slideshows, not misfired sideshows.
Don’t read from your slides. This is the most common mistake people make in their PowerPoint presentations. If you think about it, it’s kind of a silly thing to do—assuming your audience is able to read, there’s no need to read what they can clearly see on the projection in front of them. Remember to present your slides and elaborate on the information they contain. Make sure you know your material well so you can spin a good narrative and talk about what is graphically represented on each slide. Stay engaging and your audience might stay awake.
Don’t overload your slides with text. Doing so is likely to result in reading from your slides. Don’t forget that any PowerPoint presentation is just a visual aid, not the narrative itself. If you include all or most of your narrative in your slides, you’re in effect turning your audience into readers instead of listeners. You might as well hand out brochures.
Make sure the special effects are really special. PowerPoint is a fun tool with lots of bells and whistles. But beware, the whizbang animation can easily distract your audience from your message. Moderation is key here; before embedding an animation or using a special effect, ask yourself if it helps your audience understand a point you’re trying to make. If it doesn’t, it’s almost surely just eye candy that you can safely leave it out.
Use typeface judiciously. Fancy fonts can also be a distraction if you overuse them or if you use them inappropriately. The rule of thumb here is to make do with standard fonts such as Arial and New Times Roman (together with their respective font styles: bold, italic, etc.) in all your slides. Don’t be afraid to use other fonts if you need to emphasize titles or key terms, but make sure the new fonts you choose belong to the same family as your base fonts (use Arial with Calibri, for instance).
Avoid fancy themes. It’s easy to go overboard here, such being the siren call of the fancy theme. Remember that themes are just backdrops; the foreground of your PowerPoint presentation is the content. Therefore, choose themes that don’t drown out your text or your images. A quiet theme (in contrast to a loud one) is a safe bet and guarantees legibility. If you want to spruce up your theme, use the company logo or company colors in the header or the footer.