In the hands of a skillful communicator, PowerPoint can be a great tool. Unfortunately, there are many who use PowerPoint poorly.
A report in the online Wall Street Journal claimed that millions of dollars are being wasted each day due to bad presentations. Whether this is a realistic figure or not, most people have had to suffer through poor presentations at some stage.
The most common mistake in PowerPoint is using too many words. Research suggests that having lots of words on the screen to match a spoken presentation increases the cognitive load on the brain. The end result is that the message actually becomes less clear.
Using lots of words can also tempt the presenter into using the slides as a teleprompter. If this is the case, it would be better to write the points on cards and not show them to the audience.
A related problem is using too many bullet points. Again, your key messages can become lost if you have a vast variety of bullet points. Some commentators suggest that you should have no more than six bullet points and the number of words per point should be restricted to a maximum of six. A good guide is to write your points as headlines.
There are others who suggest that a presentation can be better with no bullet points at all. Because PowerPoint is essentially a visual medium, many advocates using one key message per slide mixed with the use of interesting and relevant images.
In fact, slides that contain only an image or a collection of images with no text at all can often make a powerful statement. The beauty of PowerPoint slides is that they don’t cost anything, so you can use as many as you want.
A poor choice of background is another source of aggravation for audiences. If you are going to use text, it needs to be seen. A busy background or one that doesn’t provide enough contrast between it and the words can lead to text that is unreadable.
Distracting backgrounds can be used if the text is placed inside a text box with a plainer background that allows it to be read. Another cause of unreadable text is using a font size that is too small.
Some people seem to be natural presenters. However, the good news is that the skills to construct a good presentation can be learned. Even a mediocre presenter can shine if they put the effort into designing a winning presentation.