death by powerpoint

Ever seen a stunning powerpoint presentation? You know the ones – they capture people’s hearts and minds, leaving you feeling engaged and attentive to the key message. Brene Brown is a master at this. Having recently sat transfixed for an hour and a half at the state theatre Sydney, I was chatting with a friend afterwards how she had only used 4 slides for the duration of the talk. Amazing!

The opposite of this scenario is what most of us dread, where someone stands up to give a presentation, loads in a slide deck and starts to speak AT the audience leaving them feeling disconnected and disinterested. Or, reads out each line at a rate slower than you think and read, leaving you frustrated and irritated. You endure what can only be described as punishment. Slide after slide after slide,”Death by Powerpoint”!

Here is how to avoid “Death by Powerpoint” next time you are asked to give a presentation.

1.   DON’T – Read from your slides.

Most of us are guilty of this mistake at some point in time! Usually, a result of nerves or, not being 100% prepared. It is entirely okay to sync up to what’s being spoken about in the presentation but stay away from reading every bullet point or looking at the screen the entire time.

If you do feel you need to look at the presentation regularly, try turning slightly towards the screen, but make sure your back is not facing the audience. Appropriating a quote from Andrew Lang, The slides should be used much “as a drunken man uses lamp-posts—for support rather than illumination.”  what the audience really wants is to listen to you, your conviction, insights and passion about the topic you are speaking about, not have you repeat what they can see on screen.

2.   DON’T – Go crazy with the animation

Animation can be a powerful tool making the most basic presentation alive IF used sparingly. Yes, I love creativity; however, watching distracting animations wiggle and shake while trying to keep the focus on the subject matter, makes for a dull presentation.

While adding movement and special effects might look like fun, you need to ask yourself if it supports the content and helps people understand the topic better, or is it a distraction?

Some of the most distracting transitions are fracture and ripple effects ensuring you will get noticed in the wrong way!

My general rule of thumb is to stick to one of the more stylish simple transitions styles such as push, wipe, fade or even reveal if you are looking for something a little different… but not on every slide!

Keep in mind with web-based presentations, the audience internet connectivity factor and make sure your transitions don’t become a jumping mess due.

3.   DON’T – Clutter  

Yes, I understand you want to try and pack as much value and information into a presentation as possible – photo’s, tables, charts and clip art plus the whole kitchen sink!

Over the years, I’ve learnt that less is more and that a powerful single image with your narrative, can be far more powerful than a bullet-pointed list with a tiny image offset in the corner Follow this golden rule and you will deliver your message in the right way. One concept per slide. Check out for some great examples of simple and impactful designs and to see how the professionals do it!

It is easy to lose sight of our primary objective, which for most presentations, is to engage the viewer. Keep them interested and provide bullet points as handouts or accessible via an online resource, to guide them and support your topic – don’t overwhelm them with a hosing down of mass content.

4.   DON’T – Forget About Formatting

There are some great templates in PowerPoint which can give you a guide on how to go about formatting a presentation. Remember – you can customise almost everything. Make it look unique and reflect your branding.

The design features in Powerpoint 2016 have many pre-selected themes/styles to utilise as well as formatting suggestions. If you are ever in doubt over colour combinations or font choices; this or is a great place to start. (And no, I don’t get a commission from them, I just rate their products as being really useful and the basic access is free, so you can play around with ideas and not waste money).

Top tips to help make your presentation stand out from the rest!

  • Where you do need to include text, Try the 6 x 6 Method: a maximum of six bullet points per screen with six words per bullet
  • Stick to one graphical element per page whether it be a diagram, chart or photo
  • Use repetitive elements throughout the presentation to help the viewer navigate the content
  • Choose a heading and body font that visually work well together
  • Make the heading placement and size consistent
  • Choose your colours wisely and stick to a theme that works well with the audience and your topic
  • Try a 16:9 widescreen layout which is more modern than the traditional 3:4 ratio, but think about how and where you will use the content to be sure you have chosen the best aspect for your audience.
  • Keep it simple and challenge yourself to find powerful images rather than word lists to convey your messages
  • Take the time to learn how PowerPoint works so you can easily integrate all the design elements and maximise the shortcuts.

Resource links for creating presentations

And if you need further one on one coaching or to have a presentation reviewed, contact me at