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7 PowerPoint mistakes that drive people crazy

Posted by Paul Hellman  June 24, 2011 11:00 AM

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1) Too many slides; too few slides. How many should you use? I usually say ten, only because it's a finite number and it's less than 1,000.

A better answer: It depends.

It depends, for example, on whether your audience can see you. If so, use fewer slides—or none.

But if you're leading a virtual meeting, and you're invisible to the audience, change your slides every minute or so to keep things moving. The other day, I used 28 slides for a 90 minute webinar. It worked.

2) Too many words. Venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki suggests the 10-20-30 rule: don't use more than 10 slides, don't talk more than 20 minutes, don't use less than 30 point font.

A 30 point font is large. That's good. Less words mean more attention.

Otherwise, it's as if you're talking, and your slide is also talking, and the audience is wondering, "Should I listen or read?"

Their solution: daydream.

3) Reading the slide. One way to stay in synch with your slides is to read them aloud. Don't.

Your audience can read twice as fast as you can talk. You might as well just take all your slides and mail them.

Exception: one person who could read aloud and still hold an audience was Tim Russert, the longest-serving host of NBC's "Meet the Press."

When interviewing politicians, he'd often read from the screen, word by word, something his guest once said, such as, "Apple pie is very good!"

Then, he'd show a more recent quote from the same politician: "Apple pie is very bad. In fact, apple pie is extremely carcinogenic!"

This technique worked because he used it sparingly, and because no one else was doing it, and because Tim Russert had his own magic.

That's the thing about attention (and it's why PP slides can be deadly): we like novelty.

4) Laser pointer. If you're using a laser pointer, you've got too many points.

I once watched a CEO use a laser pointer in a very intriguing, random way. You never really knew where his pointer was going next: the screen, the ceiling, your face.

I don't think it was intentional; he just didn't have a smooth technique.

But laser pointers, pointed at the eye, can cause damage. The CEO's audience stayed awake that day, I think primarily out of fear.

5) Bad titles. Each slide needs a good title so that if people space out, they can re-orient themselves quickly.

Examples: "Don't ever eat apple pie!" or, "Roomful of execs blinded by laser pointer!"

These are good titles.

6) Standing in front of the screen. That only works if you want to make sure that no one sees it.

(Sometimes presenters move off to the side, but still manage to block the people sitting on the periphery.)

7) Bad entrance, bad exit. Treat each slide as a mini-presentation. Don't jump right into the details, give us an overview first. And at the end, tell us the point.

Also, if you're not going to use another slide for a while, darken the screen. My favorite PP trick: press the "B" button to make the screen black. Then press "B" again when you want it back on.

If you do.

Tip: The next time you speak, remember—the main visual is you.

© Copyright 2011 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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