Microsoft PowerPoint turned 25 this past year...
...and, like many of its contemporaries, it’s having a bit of a quarter life crisis. When PowerPoint was the new kid on the block, all it really had to do to get results was show up. Just pick one of the good ol’ templates, fill in the bullets and voilà, you had an executive-quality, boardroom-ready presentation.
But times have changed.
The same old tricks that once charmed the audience and got them leaning forward in their seats could now have them rolling their eyes, heaving heavy sighs and reaching for their phones to tune you out entirely.
To make things worse, PPT is no longer the only presentation game in town and its favor in the business world is not as secure as it once was. Younger, sexier competitors like Keynote and Prezi provide a fresh approach to slide transition, layouts and animation.
Don't let bad slide design happen to you.
You’ve got the experience. You’ve got the knowledge. But if you look out of touch, people won’t care what you have to say.
PowerPoint is the original and, to many, it’s still considered the ultimate presentation solution. But being in the game for a long time is no excuse to lose your edge.
Today, if you want to impress viewers, you need to care about slide design. Take stock of your bag of tricks and rid yourself of these bad habits that make PowerPoints look like a relic of a bygone era.
1. Bad art
Say it with me: This is not a time for clip art
Imagery is essential to your presentation. But Screen Beans are not the way to go. Why?
Because cute Clip Art is useless if it does nothing to help your audience understand what you’re saying. If the only purpose of an image is to fill in negative space, you’re probably better off leaving it alone. Rule of thumb: No art is always better than bad art.
Also forbidden: WordArt
Tread lightly with stock photography
Human faces make presentations more effective. If you give people someone to relate with (or project onto), they’ll be more invested in what you’re saying.
But there’s nothing relatable or unique about generic “business” people standing in a row with their folded arms and dowdy suits.
Be very picky about which stock photos you use to fill out your presentation. Stick with high-resolution shots that depict realistic-looking people behaving naturally. Death to the Stock Photo is a great, free resource.
2. Default slide templates (don’t be that guy)
Listen, it’s safe to assume that your colleagues and clients all have Microsoft Office too. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they can tell when you’re using a basic default PowerPoint template. Those stuffy, muted color schemes. The unfortunate fonts. The same ugly gradient background in each and every slide?!
Don’t give your audience Windows 98 flashbacks.
A bad template undermines your presentation by distracting from the content and sending the subconscious message that you didn’t care enough to format something fresh and unique.
Your audience deserves something special. If you must use the default PowerPoint themes, use them as a starting point and customize by adjusting the colors, fonts and backgrounds.
3. Pointless animation
The era of skeuomorphism is long dead so people don't need to see your slide turn over like an actual page in a book. Adding animation to make your little clip art man shimmy like he’s dancing isn’t helping anyone understand your point any better either. These ploys scream, "Look at me! I spent valuable time learning how to do this so that you'll like me! Please like me!
Animation should only be allowed in a professional PowerPoint if it adds value to the content. How do you know if animations have value? Ask yourself these questions:
Does this slide animation serve a functional purpose?
Does it demonstrate something that I can’t convey with words and static images alone? Does it create a sense of momentum in the story I'm telling or reinforce a unified brand message?
Does this slide animation enhance my viewer’s understanding of the material?
Does it add clarity to my data or is it just a cute aside that I’m using to earn brownie points with the crowd?
Is it executed well?
This one is paramount. The effect you're going for is ‘Wooooow,’ not ‘Well, you tried.’
Motion design not your forte? Consider getting a professional PowerPoint designer to handle the slide animations for you.
4. Walls of text
We’ve all seen this one in action. The speaker is barreling through a series of bullets, data points, and jargon while us visual learners in the audience are completely lost.
Don't bury important information in text blocks where they'll be missed by half your audience. Instead, distil your complex ideas into concise visual statements, only focus on one key idea per slide and always keep the text to a minimum.
This is essential, especially for presentations that involve a lot of numbers and technical language.
5. Cue carding
Your slideshow is NOT a teleprompter.
Nothing is more cringe-inducing than hearing someone read directly from their slides verbatim. Most of the audience can read faster than you can talk, so you’re giving the PowerPoint all the glory.
PowerPoint slides should feature only bare-bones language that intrigues the audience so they want to listen to you more closely. The slides introduce your point and your flawless elocution drives it home.
6. Font crimes
Your font choices act as a tone of voice that sets the mood of your presentation, so you should always ensure that your PowerPoint fonts are in line with the themes you're discussing—and the type of people you expect to be in the audience.
Most of the time, you'll want to keep your fonts simple and easy to read. You should only use fancy fonts, such as script or bold typewriter imitations, if they match the theme of your presentation. If a bold, crazy font does fit with your message, you should still limit it to title slides and headings. Otherwise, the audience will grow bored of it quickly.
This is another area where a professional slide designer can be a great relief. If you just want focus on the meat of your presentation, let a PowerPoint designer take care of the packaging.
7. No video?
Video is the great, underutilized resource of PowerPoint presenting. It's like the old saying goes—show, don't tell.
Embedding a video into PowerPoint might seem complicated, but it’s really not that hard to do and there are so many benefits that make it worthwhile.
Instead of having to explain how your complex product works, you can actually show it in action. Instead of simply quoting a famous figure, you can show a video of the words coming straight from the horse's mouth.
If you're pitching a brand new concept or something very large-scale, you don't have to rely on the audience's imagination. You can get motion graphics designers to animate your plan and bring your idea to life without lifting a finger!
When one of our clients was proposing a brand new city to investors and businesses, we designed an animated pitch video that brought the whole plan to life and embedded it right into their PowerPoint pitch deck. Their pitch presentation was a hit and you can now visit the thriving, sustainable community of Stapleton, Denver to see the results.
Putting a video in your PowerPoint also gives you a few minutes to you catch your breath and review your notes, which is an added bonus you'll be thankful for whether you're doing fifteen minutes or a hours-long marathon presentation.
Whether you want to secure an investment, land a partnership, or deliver a report to high-level executives at your company, a professional slide designer can make all the difference. Instead of struggling to jazz up those charts you made in Excel, you can get an experienced graphic artist to design custom data visualizations that leverage your key points using charts, iconography, motion and your own brand assets. The results can be stunning.