The Cardinal Sins of Power Point Presentations

If I didn't learn anything else in the past four years (and 2.2 degrees), I have become a power user of Power Point. Prior to school, I had absolutely no need to learn how to use this product, even though I was a long time power user of Word and Excel. Want a pivot table? I'm your woman. However, as a hard core user of it, I see a lot of mistakes in other presentations that can be avoided.

My current work project involves taking presentations and crafting iBook chapters from the information contained in those Power Point slides. While the professor I'm working with doesn't need to be an expert user, she's got much of it right. However, I have to create a chapter from Power Point slides from an agency she partnered with and these things are making me cross eyed at the many things that violate design principles, as well as basic pedagogy. The most grievous sin is how disorganized the whole thing is. So, thanks to this lovely thing that I will convert into a pretty chapter by Thursday afternoon (and lots of overtime), I present to you the cardinal sins of Power Point and how you can fix them!

Power Point Sin #1 --The Wall of Text

Have you ever been handed a document, a flyer, or ever looked at an advertisement and you couldn't focus because there was TOO much information crowded into the allotted space? Power Point slides are exactly the same-you turn off your audience when they are struggling to read the information while you're presenting.

The key here is LESS is MORE! No more than six lines or bullet points, highlighting the key things you want your audience to remember, because they're not going to remember 200 words in a really small font (done so you could fit it all in). My personal rule of thumb is that if I can't read through it in 30 seconds, it needs to be edited down. Save the novel for the printed page.

Power Point Sin #2 --What Does This Have to Do With the Last Slide?

Remember in third grade how you were told to create a paragraph by making a topic sentence, the a few supporting sentences, and then a conclusion? Then the following year, you learned how to build essays in a similar manner? Your Power Point should be no different. Group all your relevant information together. For example, if you're giving examples for discussion, place ALL the information together, rather than scattering it over 20 slides. If you don't, you confuse your audience and they lose interest.

Power Point Sin #3 --Get the FAQ, PDQ or Your Audience Will Be Thinking WTH?

As I said, the Power Point that I'm using as a guide is from a government agency, and it is full of acronyms and jargon. I could figure out some of it, but there are two acronyms that not even Google could find. When I searched what I suspected was the translation, guess what? It wasn't! Now, I'm pretty adept with medical terminology, but this was really out there.

Assume your audience knows NOTHING about the topic you're presenting, unless you know for a fact that this is an in-house thing that your colleagues will view. This means that the first time you use an acronym, spell it out and put the letters after it. If you use the term dinglehopper, know that if I don't do your job every day, I don't know what a dinglehopper is. (What is worse is that the agency has the same acronyms and jargon on their website without explanation there, either!

Power Point Sin #4 --Pictures are Nice, But...

Graphics are a great way to promote understanding, but like the text, less is more. If you start with photographs, continue with photographs-don't mix your image types and you'll look more polished and authoritative.

Power Point Sin #5 --But it Looked Good on Miami Vice!

Pink and Aqua are both nice colors, but trying to read pink text can be difficult-especially on an aqua background! If you plan on sharing your Power Point, consider that your audience may be printing the slides for reference, but on black printers. Also consider that when you're presenting, some audience members may be colorblind and not see part of your slides. I printed out my slides today so I could make notes and well, I have about ten slides that are missing some information because the grayscale was too close on the text and background.

Preview your presentation to make sure that the background isn't the same color as the text and that it all fits on the page. If you avoid sin #1, this would not be an issue. Let's just say that if the person who put together the presentation I'm working on had followed those two things, I would have found the meaning of that acronym from Sin #3!

There are other things you can do to make your PowerPoint look professional, but following these five guidelines will make your audience happy, instead of frustrated!


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