The Dark Slide of the Room (Side A): An album of the worst PowerPoint mistakes (and their remedies!)
Updated: Aug 24, 2021
After getting great feedback on the debut compilation album of my top eight PowerPoint design tips (What’s the story) PowerPoint Glory, I felt the need to get back into the studio and work on an album highlighting the top eight PowerPoint mistakes. What to call an album of songs covering such formidable territory? How would I even approach a discussion about the dark side of slide design? Always in the mood for a great pun, and drawing inspiration from one of the biggest selling albums of all time, I could think of no better title than “The dark slide of the room”.
An article pointing out mistakes that I have made would not be an enjoyable read (or listen!) if I did not include the lessons I’ve learned along the way. With each mistake, I’ve included the remedy so that you can save yourself from learning these lessons the hard way as I have.
Think of this article as the album sleeve notes, and click here to listen to these fantastic songs on Spotify playlist while reading! Go ahead, if anyone wonders why you are blasting loud music while working, you can honestly proclaim “it’s professional development!”
Ok, so let’s begin with a song from one of my favorite bands.
SONG 1: “I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR” BY U2
This song title contains a sentiment that audiences experience when they are presented with a single slide crammed with information.
Mistake: Projecting slides so complex your audience doesn't know where to look
As the presenter, there are occasions where you need to use single slides which contain a lot of information – an infographic, an analytics dashboard, or a full financial report. Remember though, when you give your audience something to look at, that’s exactly what they will do! When you leave a slide up like this for a long time, your audience will begin examining the complex information on the screen and stop giving you their full attention. When this happens, you are at risk of individuals picking up details or points on the screen which are unrelated to your train of thought. If you hear yourself saying “what this slide is really trying to say is….” it’s a sure sign that you have included far too much information on it.
Remedy: Highlight the part of a complex visual that you are discussing
If you must include complex graphs and charts for a specific reason, such as showing a trend over time or another type of relationship, go ahead and show it, but don’t leave it up in all its glory for too long. Try to visually draw your audience’s attention to the explicit data point that you want your audience to focus on while you are talking about it, and obscure or hide the ancillary information. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, from simply covering areas of the image with boxes or break the visual up into multiple slides with just the area you are talking about visible. If you do need them to see the “big picture” (literally) and your intention is for them to study a chart to draw their own conclusion from the data, let the slide do the talking and be quiet for a while, giving your audience a chance to process what they are looking at. Just make sure that your audience finds what they are looking for.
SONG 2: “ANY COLOR YOU LIKE” BY PINK FLOYD
I couldn’t create an album with this title and NOT include a song by atmospheric geniuses, Pink Floyd! There’s a great lesson in this song to avoid – DON’T use any color you like!
Mistake: Using too many colors throughout the deck
Using too many colors throughout your deck can make it look unprofessional. Sometimes presenters will try to “pretty up” their deck by adding a variety of colors to texts and backgrounds, and the color choices end up being distracting from what’s being said.
Remedy: Pick a few colors and keep it simple
If you have brand guidelines, there are likely some well-thought-out color schemes you can use (and should probably stick to). If you don’t have such a thing, just pick a few complementary colors and keep it simple. If you need a highlight color to make a unique word or point stand out, such as red or pink, use the same color consistently throughout the deck.
SONG 3: “PAPERBACK WRITER” BY THE BEATLES
If you have been able to read the title of this song without singing it in your head and repeating the word “writer”, you are a stronger person than I! When you are designing your slides, make sure this song isn’t describing you.
Mistake: Turning your slide deck into a document with way too many words
Your slide deck should not contain paragraphs or full sentences unless you are quoting someone or specific legal language on a slide or two. Remember, YOU are the one talking. If your slides can talk by themselves, you should probably just send everyone a copy and save everyone (including yourself) some time!
Remedy: Make simple slides for your presentation, provide written information as a handout
Often people will argue that their slides MUST contain a lot of information because they will be distributed after the presentation and people need the detail. A slide deck with a lot of words is not a great presentation tool. Similarly, a slide deck with graphics and images is not a great handout. Your slide deck cannot be both, it will only be good at one or the other. If you feel like you need to create a great piece of literature for your audience, make one, but give them it as a handout.
SONG 4: “DAZED AND CONFUSED” BY LED ZEPPELIN
Slides shatter into splinters! Words bounce into the screen! The slide turns into a paper airplane and flies away! Don't leave your audience dazed and confused.
Mistake: Over-using animations and transitions
Big, exciting slide animations and transitions have their place, and when used right can add drama, humor, and pizazz to your presentation. There are also tools out there (such as Prezi®) that allow wild zooming in and out of words and images. These effects can have a great wow factor, but they can also create a bad woozy factor. When such effects are over-used, they quickly become too much of a good thing, which ends up being a bad thing.
Remedy: Wow your audience with your content, not your animations
When you follow the steps that I outline in my book Before the Mic, you will write your words first and create your visuals second. When you approach writing your presentations this way, you avoid the trap of trying to rely too heavily on slide animations to wow your audience. Instead, you approach the microphone confident that your words will be meaningful, memorable, and motivational. Regardless of your presentation slide-creation weapon of choice, you will ALWAYS be better off when your visuals support the words you are saying.
That’s it, end of Side A! To summarize here are the first four remedies:
Remedy 1: Highlight the part of a complex visual that you are discussing
Remedy 2: Pick a few colors and keep it simple
Remedy 3: Make simple slides for your presentation, create a handout with detailed information
Remedy 4: Wow your audience with your content, not your animations
There are four more songs to go! Ready for side B? Flip over the virtual record by clicking here!
Do you have any songs in mind which relate to presentations? If so, I’d love to hear them and possibly feature them in a future blog post and Spotify playlist!
Thanks for reading!