How to avoid ‘Death by PowerPoint’

Posted on Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by

That’s easy…….. just don’t use it? Unfortunately in today’s fast paced society where we devour every increasing amounts of content and communications on a minute by minute basis, being asked to create a presentation for your team or yourself is a cert, for a pitch, interview, sale or training.

We have all witnessed ‘Death by PowerPoint’ at some stage of our life, it’s unavoidable like paying tax (unless you have an expensive accountant or you are a large global search engine or eCommerce store, but that’s another story for another time).


The norm tends to be endured in a business context or even worse at a social occasion like a wedding speech, when the best man has clearly gone to town on a PowerPoint presentation that is 100 slides worth of pure cringe. So why has PowerPoint become such a dirty word that is met with moans and groans and a general low level hatred, whilst mention of Keynote is met with pats on the back and howls of excitement? You could use the age old Microsoft & Apple debate here, IE that Apple is cool and reliable and Microsoft is dull and great at crashing every 5 minutes. So PowerPoint coming from the Microsoft stable is about as uncool as you get right?

You could also suggest that it’s down to PowerPoint’s easy to use functionality and quick presentation tools, plus the mass availability of the software due to its roll out as part of the monster that is Office, for the majority of businesses and home PCs.

Well actually no.

It has nothing to do with PowerPoint or Keynote. They cannot make a bad presentation, they simply output the content that has been entered into them.

Yes they tempt us with snazzy backgrounds, a plethora of fancy fonts and loads of animation and transitions to play with, but it’s not mandatory to use these and it’s also not mandatory to fit more content onto one 16:9 slide than you would ordinarily have spread over 5 pages of your website or financial report in print.My point is simply that you as the presentation designer / author hold the key to creating an engaging and compelling presentation, before you even double click the PowerPoint launch icon.

Confidence is critical to a successful presentation.

A confident presenter will often only use minimal presentation support as they fully understand that an audience from 1 person to 1000, loves to hear stories being told by another person. It’s part of our human DNA, engrained in us from our time as children when stories form an important part of our development cycle.

It’s true that children’s stories tend to have fantastic colourful illustrations to enhance the experience and the same should apply to a confident presentation slide deck.

We are looking to enhance and support the core messages we need to communicate to our audience and this is often confused in a bad presentation with putting your script on the screen. That’s lazy and screams a lack of confidence or understanding in what you really need to present. But I am not confident and I am actually really nervous about presenting’ you may cry. If you do then don’t worry public speaking is in the top 10 of things people hate to do so you are definitely not alone.

Simply focus on the 5 key messages you want to communicate. Practice them, learn them off by heart and have confidence and belief in what you are saying. If you’re not confident then your audience definitely won’t be as they will be feeling your negative, sweaty aura! Make sure you consider your audience, the demographic, their interests and focus for your presentation.

If price is critical to them make sure your focus on price and don’t spend an hour discussing the use of the colour red.

Utilise the abundance of great presentation design and presentation techniques available on the web. TED is a great way of learning how the very best presenters engage and communicate on all levels successfully across all sorts of subject matter. Once you are clear on what you want to say to your audience we can now consider how best to support this on screen.

Map out your presentation and keep the slides to a minimum.

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ so where possible replace the need for text or bullet points with a relevant and powerful image.

Beware of using humour in a presentation. What you find funny 99% of your intended audience may not and that’s a great way to lose the pitch before you’ve even got to slide two.

If you are presenting a new product and its benefits, focus the slide content to illustrate only what you cannot talk about or demonstrate physically with the product. If the key technology is hidden inside the product then the money slide will be the one that illustrates this either as a flat graphic or even better if budget allows, a sexy 3D animation. To help keep the audience engaged consider including a short piece of relevant video content. No not the dancing cat from YouTube but a vblog piece or industry opinion on why your product or service is adding value, adds important context to your message.

Be brave and keep your slides clean and relevant.

Design is very subjective but what Apple has successfully demonstrated time and time again is that clean and uncluttered = great design, so don’t cram your slides with loads of confusing content.

Replace horrid bullet points with a quote or a nicely considered piece of typography (no not Comic Sans believe me there is never a time or place that font should be used and the irony of a font being referred to as Comic is every reason to avoid it like the plague!).

Use full screen images to help the audience follow your story or to change the mood.

Your slides should complement what you are saying so don’t spend the whole presentation with your back to the audience reading your slides on the screen or on your iPad. Maintain as much eye contact with your audience as possible without straying into the realms of creepy by staring wildly at the poor soul who happens to be sitting closest to you.

It’s an obvious suggestion but make sure you keep your slide and presentation content relevant to the audience. Keep them engaged with constant reminders of how your product or service will benefit them.

Smile and your audience will smile with you.

Confident people smile. A smile can dis arm the most obnoxious person who wants you to fail on an epic scale. Keep your presentation tight and to the point. Don’t labour or over complicate it. If you’re bored or uninspired by what you are saying imagine how your audience feels.

Be prepared to be flexible.

Don’t fall to pieces if you cannot present all 10 slides in order or the client wants you to skip around your presentation on the day.

Make sure you have the killer slide in your deck. This slide will summarise or visualise your proposition efficiently and leave no room for confusion. It will clearly list the benefits to the client.

A top tip is to be prepared to present without the aid of your slides.
Technology is wonderful but temperamental and guaranteed to fail at the most in opportune time so get ready to fly solo if the wi fi packs up!

If time and budget permits definitely be prepared to outsource the design and creation of your presentation. Why not tap into the expertise of a presentation design agency and take advantage of a second opinion and the ideas they can bring to the party.

Know your product or subject off by heart so you can be confident in your delivery.

If your boss only gives you 24 hours to create a presentation the same principles apply and are even more reason to keep the slide count and graphics to a minimum and instead spend more time rehearsing what is actually going to sell the product or service to the client.

Keep the energy levels high, smile and have total belief in yourself, your product and your presentation support material.

Prepare, create, practice then practice again. 

Once you have presented take the opportunity to refine and improve your presentation based on any feedback you may get or your gut instinct on how the slides were received. If the team structure slide felt awkward and added no value to your presentation then delete it.

Jason and his team at Outlook Digital have been enhancing presentations for many years for a range of Blue Chip and SMEs across all industry sectors. We treat each brief as unique and have access to a full range of dynamic interactive digital tools including Animation, Video and top quality presentation design including the use of bespoke Infographics.

Call Jason now for a no obligation quotation and advice on how to enhance your presentation requirements.