We’ve all used PowerPoint at one point or another. The Microsoft presentation tool operates as the sturdy backbone of pretty much every school presentation, work conference and business meeting across the globe.
Unfortunately, not all presentations are created equal. Sitting through the same dull PowerPoints over and over again can be excruciatingly dull for your audience. As a presenter, it only takes one or two tiny errors in order to lose your audience and transform a well-prepared presentation into a complete and utter write-off.
To help you avoid those rookie errors and achieve PowerPoint success, here are 10 of the worst presentation mistakes you could possibly make — and, crucially, how you can avoid them.
Avoid these PowerPoint Errors when Presenting
1. Get Your Eyes Off the Screen
The single most common error individuals make is to rely exclusively on their slides in order to carry an entire presentation. Far too many presenters simply end up reading slides in verbatim — forgetting to make eye contact and actually engage with audience members. It doesn’t take an audience long to suss out that you aren’t planning to engage with them at all. They will stop paying attention accordingly.
2. Lose the Animations
PowerPoint comes built-in with a lot of nifty animation tricks. You can make text boxes dance on screen, slides can swirl into one another and pictures can flicker like old neon signs. Those might be fun to play with, but they are not fun for professional presentations. Like it or not, you’re an adult — you need to act like one. Goofy PowerPoint animations will only chip away at your credibility.
3. Ban All Clip Art
When you were first learning how to use Microsoft Office, you probably had loads of fun with its built-in selection of goofy clip art. A lot of it was cute, some of it was tacky. Unless you want your business presentation to be cute and tacky, that means you have got to reject the use of any and all clip art henceforth. If you love it so much, save it for chain mail with old school chums.
4. Reduce Your Slide Count
At the end of the day, your PowerPoint slides should serve as visual aids — not a crutch. As such, you shouldn’t feel as though you must create a slide to accompany each and every single piece of information included within your presentation. If you’re changing slides every 30 seconds, it will prove overly distracting for your audience. When in doubt, be conservative and concise. Less is always more.
5. Wrap It Up
The average individual can only pay attention for around 20 minutes before his or her mind begins to wander. Bearing that in mind, you won’t be doing yourself any favors by droning on about budget projections for 90 minutes. If you want your audience to take in everything you’re saying, you’ve got to keep your PowerPoint as short as possible. If you can’t keep it under 20 minutes, think about breaking things up with an intermission or two.
6. Lose the Text
Another rookie mistake people often make is to cram each slide with paragraphs of tiny text. Their slides come out looking like a boring news article, and simply distract audience members. Chances are they’ll crane their necks to read the text for themselves, completely drowning you out in the process. When in doubt, each slide should contain no more than a few bullet points harboring short, key facts or phrases. That way, audience members will be forced to listen up in order to get the full picture of whatever it is you’re talking about.
7. Remember, White Space Is Your Friend
Including too much text isn’t the only fatal error presenters often make. Lots of individuals tend to think their presentations will be more engaging by creating more exciting slides. They load up on multiple pictures, graphics, headers and text boxes until every last inch of slide space is covered up. Don’t be like them. Cluttered slides render it impossible for audience members to figure out your key points. Keep slides concise and professional, but make sure they still convey useful information.
8. Stick to Two Fonts
Microsoft Office plays home to scores of exotic fonts. Please resist the temptation and keep your PowerPoint professional. Find one or two sans serif fonts that are easy-to-read, and use them consistently throughout. If you really want to use a decorative font, you can only do so within your headers – and it must be brand appropriate. You should never distract your audience with difficult-to-read fonts simply because you like them. Always use with purpose.
9. Take Questions
After hours of rehearsing in front of the mirror, a lot of us are bound to get frazzled and annoyed when our presentations are interrupted mid-slide with difficult questions. The common error is to smile and suggest your audience members hold their questions until the end. Don’t make that mistake. By taking on questions throughout your presentation and engaging with audience members, you will not only build stronger links with those individuals – but you’ll also help them to wrap their heads around whatever it is you’re trying to say.
10. Have a Back-up Plan
It always seems like technology wants you to fail. Maybe you’ve forgotten your laptop charger, or the USB stick your presentation was on suddenly isn’t cooperating. That shouldn’t be enough to derail your entire PowerPoint presentation. You must always have a back-up plan. Save your slides in a cloud, double up on memory sticks or email them to yourself. That way, you cannot be defeated by simple hardware problems.
So long as you avoid these simple mistakes, your PowerPoint presentation should be destined for success. But no two presenters are alike, and so you really should have a sit down and think about other, less common errors that your own presentations could be prone to. When in doubt, always practice a couple of times in front of a brutally honest friend – that way you’ve got the opportunity to fix any gaping errors before you totally embarrass yourself.
Presentation Illustration via Shutterstock