I have attended my fair share of presentations given by Powerpoint. Believe you me: working in politics and going to graduate school has ensured that in the last five or so years I have seen more Powerpoints than any person would ever want to see.
As I began making a Powerpoint presentation for a seminar I am presenting at on social networking next weekend, I realized that I was making a horrible Powerpoint. Ultimately, I’m to be talking about how to do things like Facebook, Twitter, and blogging; about five slides in with nothing but step-by-step lists that are sure to both (a) bore everyone beyond belief, and (b) not teach anyone anything, I finally came to the conclusion that an interactive online step-by-step will probably be much more effective.
But beyond that, I was reminded of all the horrible Powerpoint presentations I have attended in recent years; of sitting in a room full of about 300 people while we all sat there reading paragraph after paragraph as the presenter stood and waited. It’s really very easy to make a really bad Powerpoint presentation. Here’s how:
Put As Much Text As You Want
… in fact, why not just type out your entire talk?
Nothing is worse than going to a Powerpoint presentation and finding yourself not even paying attention to the speaker because she is standing there in front of a Powerpoint slide that has more words on it than she is even saying. It’s one thing to throw up a couple of lines with statistics, or to start out with an outline. It’s another thing to include quotes, entire paragraphs, and other long-winded prose. The general rule of a Powerpoint is that it is supposed to be a visual companion to your talk, which means pictures, photos, graphs, and the like.
If you want to make a good Powerpoint, you’ll make sure to try to keep it below 6 words per slide; if you want to make a bad Powerpoint, you’ll make sure to include so many words you may as well just print out the slides and hand them out to save everyone’s time.
Use The Most Obnoxious, Blinding Background That You Can Find
The worst Powerpoint background I ever saw, visually, was one where the presenter found all sorts of her own detailed pictures and used a different one for each slide. It was awful, and on the majority of them we could not even see the material she was presenting because it blended in so well with what was in the back. The only thing that I could imagine to be worse than that would have been being blinded by colors – something like neon backgrounds with neon letters to contrast.
If you want to make a good Powerpoint, you’ll try to keep your creative side at bay and remember your audience may have all manner of visual idiosyncrasies; if you want to make a bad Powerpoint, you’ll be sure to try and either (a) not let anyone see the information you are presenting on the screen, or (b) blind everyone in the room.
Implement Excessive Transitions
Wipe, wipe, fade, boomerang, racing boomerang, dissolve, dissolve, scroll in, left blinds, diamond explosion etc., etc., etc. There is a special place in hell for whomever the person at Microsoft was that thought it would be a great idea to include all manner of slide and text transitions. To put it bluntly: it’s tacky. To put it softly: it’s unprofessional. Your audience did not come to see your superior talents in applying animation transitions to your Powerpoint presentations. Nor did they come to sit and wait every time the computer inevitably transitioned something the wrong way, causing the information to pop up on the screen in the wrong way, thereby compelling you (the presenter) to fumble around, trying to get back to the last slide.
If you want to make a good Powerpoint, you’ll stick to a normal non-animated transition from slide-to-slide and let your talk be the bells and whistles that wows your audience; if you want to make a bad Powerpoint, you’ll include every single obnoxious transition there is to offer, adding at least 20 minutes to the talk.
Make So Many Slides You Need Multiple Flashdrives To Transfer It Over To The Projector
This is a real Powerpoint presenter’s faux pas, and it happens all the time. Slides are so easy to make that presenters often get slap-happy and end up extending their presentation well beyond the scope of what it needs to achieve the intended goal. I’ve seen this many times: a talk is supposed to extend no more than 30 – 45 minutes plus questions. From a psychological standpoint, that is the absolute maximum you can hold a person’s attention. (Actually, you can only hold their attention for 30 seconds with 30 second intervals in between; thus your talk must be continuously inspiring a renewed attention every minute, which is possible for an absolute maximum of 45 minutes.) With too many slides, though, presenters tend to linger on a slide for longer than they need, extend the presentation into extraneous details irrelevant to the ultimate subject, and just plain go on too long.
If you want to make a good Powerpoint, you’ll stick to no more than fifteen slides, unless the topic is relatively complex in which case the Powerpoint may be extended to twenty; if you want to make a bad Powerpoint, you’ll go for a marathon amount. In fact, if you’re going to spit in the face of proven research, why not try and break the record for the most number of slides ever included in a Powerpoint presentation?
Sure, studies prior to the advent of Powerpoint showed that people are up to 43% more likely to take action on the topic of your presentation if they have been given a visual aid to go along with it. This seems all the more relevant in an age where we are much more visual than we have ever been. But there is a point (a Powerpoint you might say) where you need to draw the line and accept that a talk is called just that for a reason.