The Seven Deadly Sins of PowerPoint

By / August 20, 2014

PowerPoint is an industry standard tool. Whether you love it or hate it, it is one of the most accessible file types for individuals in the business world, offering the flexibility to edit and repurpose content. But rather than building a series of engaging, visual slides to enhance a presentation, most business decks exist as content-heavy “repositories” for standalone documents. This becomes a visual communications challenge; making dense slides salient and engaging is difficult and there are a few common “deadly sins” that we should always avoid when communicating in PowerPoint …

 

PPT Deadly Sin #1: Visual Overload
Incorporating too many different visual elements on a single slide.
While it is good to emphasize important information, doing so by adding too many different visual elements on a slide can be more distracting than helpful. Visual slide ‘elements’ or ‘characteristics’ are what we perceive and respond to when looking at a slide, such as titles, text blocks, pictures, and graphic elements such as shapes and lines.  Too many distracting elements on a page can confuse the viewer; it becomes difficult to identify the intent of the original message. If the use of visual emphasis does not add clarity to the message, chances are it is not needed. When in doubt, leave it out.

DO NOT: Combine too many of the following together: (a) Text variation - font, size, and colour (b) Text emphasis - underline, bold, italics (c) Text and shape embellishments - drop shadows, reflections, embossing, and (e) Layers of images (f) Clip art

DO NOT: Combine too many of the following together: (a) Text variation – font, size, and colour (b) Text emphasis – underline, bold, italics (c) Text and shape embellishments – drop shadows, reflections, embossing, and (e) Layers of images (f) Clip art

PPT Deadly Sin #2: Cool Over Clarity
Prioritizing visual flair over information clarity and accessibility.
The need to jazz up a presentation with ‘artsy’ touches can decrease legibility and impede the clarity of your message. Beware of over-designing, space-hogging background themes, crowded pages, decorative (but meaningless) graphics, and special effects. The trick to prettying up a slide is to find ways to simplify, increase white space, and eliminate excess decoration.  It may seem counter intuitive but clarity should always be the first priority.  If choosing to use a fancier font, apply it only to the title and in little doses. If using supporting images, using them sparingly, and do not let them compete for the attention of the viewer. When applying colour, choose a only a couple colours and use sparingly.

DO NOT: (a) Add fancy fonts that are illegible, (b) Add decorative borders, (c) Use large surfaces of popping bright colours or gradients, and (d) Rotate text on angles

DO NOT: (a) Add fancy fonts that are illegible, (b) Add decorative borders, (c) Use large surfaces of popping bright colours or gradients, (d) Rotate text on angles, and (e) Add custom fonts that no one else will have

PPT Deadly Sin #3: Content Sprawl
Maximizing every inch of space on a slide.
Content-heavy slides require a fine balance between words and images. However, a common mistake is to try and create balance by filling up every inch of a slide. Being comfortable with having empty space on a slide and learning how to create balance with it is more effective than covering it because it forces you to group and organize information.

DON'T: Spread text or images across a slide, just to fill up the space.

DON’T: Spread text or images across a slide, just to fill up the space.

PPT Deadly Sin #4: Walls of text
Building a wall of text that spans across a slide.
Remember that in PowerPoint, you are aiming to distill content into its simplest, most digestible format, and not to write a formal, prose-based report. A wall of text is not only difficult to read but it provides no obvious entry point for readers to engage in the content. There is nothing more intimidating than looking at this never-ending wall! Texty slides also cause us to use tiny font that is hard to read. Consider breaking up that information into columns or organizing it so that the more important points are treated with greater emphasis. Remember,  you are aiming to distill content into its simplest, more digestible format. A reader should be able to discern what your slide is about with a second or two long glance.

DON’T: (a) Create a wall of text! (b) Neglect information hierarchy

DON’T: (a) Create a wall of text! (b) Neglect information hierarchy

PPT Deadly Sin #5: Data Dump
Creating isolated data slides that do not connect to a broader storyline.

A common PowerPoint mistake is dumping content on slides without taking the time to flesh out the broader storyline. PowerPoint is a storytelling tool that can help build narratives through slides (think of scenes or storyboards). Yet most people spend all their time only focusing on the content and very little time considering how to best communicate it. Both are equally important! Failing to engage your audience will take away from what you have to say. In the end, all presentations are stories. When you create a slide, step back and access what it presented. Do you read the scene loud and clear? Could you summerize the slide into a sentence or two? If not, you might need to revisit what is presented.

DON’T: Assume that people will be able to understand your message just because it’s on a slide!

DON’T: Assume that people will be able to understand your message just because it’s on a slide!

PPT Deadly Sin #6: Breaking System
Neglecting the foundational grids and guidelines of your presentation.

Every PowerPoint presentation is based on a theme with master slides that you can build from, or adapt. But it is apparent that many people completely neglect to follow the master theme setting. Master pages should not be something only designers fuss with because they are critical in keeping presentations grounded in visual consistency and content hierarchy. It is always better to default to a master page and tweak as necessary, rather than treating every slide as custom. Hint: invest a little time up front to set up a consistent presentation theme. It will save you much more time down the line as you populate your presentation

DON’T: Ignore master slides — work with them and edit them to suite your presentation needs.

DON’T: Ignore master slides — work with them and edit them to suite your presentation needs.

PPT Deadly Sin #7: Pop-Up Effect
Adding excessive animations or transitions.

PowerPoint offers the ability to add motion to any presentation. This is not necessarily a good thing because excessive animation and/or slide transitions are over-the-top, cheesy, and unprofessional. As a rule of thumb, unless there is a clear intent and benefit to adding motion, it is best to stick to the basics and let the words and images stand strong.

 

DON’T: (a) Use 80% of the ‘wild’ animation and transition effects (b) Use transitions unless you are trying to associate related slides together as a grouping. (c) Add any sound effects to anything.

DON’T: (a) Use 80% of the ‘wild’ animation and transition effects (b) Use transitions unless you are trying to associate related slides together as a grouping. (c) Add any sound effects to anything.

 

No matter if you are a student, a business professional, a scientist or designer, if you are out there in this world, you need PowerPoint skills to be successful. It is the bread and butter of presentations and communication. By avoiding the common deadly sins of PowerPoint, you are on your way to creating nicely designed, clear and communicative slide decks which are the key to looking professional and leaving a great impression with your audience. Happy designing!