The Best PowerPoints are Forgettable

In Brief:  PowerPoint slides get a bad rap.  But that’s only because so many people either over-use PowerPoint or do not know how to use it well.  It doesn’t have to be so.

By Jonathan Halls

People Complain More About PowerPoint Slides than Speakers

I just finished reading an article about how to create great PowerPoint slides. It was titled, “How to Wow Your Audiences with Your PowerPoint Slides.”

Within about a paragraph it became apparent that the author and I fundamentally disagree on the role of slides in presentations. Because I believe great PowerPoint slides should be forgotten.

Huh? Let me start with his main points.

He said Great PowerPoint Slides Wow Audiences

He started by saying he had sat through hundreds of presentations that were accompanied by horrible PowerPoint slides. (We’ve all endured that experience more than we like.)

He said the biggest mistake the presenters made in these hundred of presentations he sat through was not wowing the audience with pretty pictures or the amazing dazzling effects PowerPoint offers.

You’ve seen these effects in action. The presenter inserts a transition so the screen seems to spin and shatter before moving on to the next slide.

The author suggested using clip art to grab the audience’s eyes. (Something that I think screams out amateur-hour.) He advised inserting video and selecting vivid colors with wiz-bang animation effects.

I Say People Shouldn’t Notice Great PowerPoint Slides

If you are using PowerPoint or Keynote slides in a presentation, I believe your audience should forget them.

Don’t dazzle them with cheesy clip-art. Or blind them with fancy transitions. Don’t waste your valuable prep time creating slides they’ll remember. Create slides they’ll forget.

People don’t come to a presentation to see a slide show. They come to see you. They come to hear your ideas and engage with your message.

The instant you create slides that wow the audience, you have lost them. It’s as bad as creating those horrible slides that lead audiences to “death by PowerPoint”.

You want people to remember your message. And the role of PowerPoint slides is to help your audience understand your great idea and remember it.

The True Role of PowerPoint Slides

If you want PowerPoint to make you look good, create slides that are quick and simple to understand.

Your PowerPoint slides should be like the graphics you see behind newsreaders when you watch the news. Each slide should be a short succinct summary of the point you’re making.

When people see your slide, they should understand the message immediately without needing to work hard.

They should not be so distracted by discordant colors and distracting animations that they stop listening to you as they try and figure out what your visuals are all about.

Nor should they need a set of binoculars to read an Excel spreadsheet that’s reproduced in 8pt font or run their eyes up and down nine bullet points.

Effective PowerPoint slides have simple graphics and feature as few words as possible. Use dark backgrounds with light colors for your fonts so people don’t have to squint to understand your ideas.

Choose fonts that do not pixelate on the screen. Sans serif fonts like Ariel or Verdana are great.

If you can get away with a simple image that speaks for itself and does not need any text, that’s great.

When you lay out your PowerPoint slides, think graphically. Frame each slide so it looks natural – follow the rule of thirds.

Some people wonder if they should use animations and transitions. They are fine if they help convey your message. If they don’t have a narrative purpose, though, they will distract from your message.

Quick Tips:

  • Keep slides simple
  • Use as few words as possible
  • Opt for a single picture to reinforce what you are talking about
  • Rely on your presentations skills to convey your message, not your slides.
  • Use slides as a reinforcement tool
  • Design slides so they look good
  • Use dark background and light fonts
  • Choose sans serif fonts
  • Only use animation when it illustrates your point

Don’t Wow with Slides. Wow with Your Ideas

When a great presenter uses PowerPoint, you hardly remember their slides. You remember everything she said and her ideas stand strong in your memory.

Unlike the author I just read, great presenters don’t wow people with PowerPoint slides.

Good presenters wow their audiences with incredible content that’s quick and easy to remember. And ideas that are so powerful that audiences never forget them.