Don’t Make These Fatal PowerPoint Errors in Your Next Presentation

Don’t Make These Fatal PowerPoint Errors in Your Next Presentation

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.

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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

Nash Riggins Nash Riggins is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and an American journalist based in central Scotland. Nash covers industry studies, emerging trends and general business developments. His writing background includes The Huffington Post, World Finance and GuruFocus. His website is

3 Reactions
  1. Every point here is spot on. I couldn’t agree more. And regarding the reduction in number of slides, reduction of text and breaking up the presentation if longer than 20 minutes, making your point more quickly usually is harder and that’s why length creeps into the process.

  2. I’ve sat through presentations where the slide deck was badly designed and riddled with errors..but the presentation was awesome. Conversely I’ve sat through presentations where the deck looked stunning, but where I was bored and yawning within 5 minutes.

    I think the biggest issue with any presentation is less about the technical aspects – the number of slides, amount of text per slide, and so on. While these things are obviously important, the elephant in the room is that the vast majority of presenters suck at presenting.

    Most presentations are ill thought-out, have little structure, and fail to effectively deliver the content contained within them. This isn’t solely the fault of PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi (yuck..) or any other software application. It’s the fault of whoever prepared the presentation in the first place.

    Many people begin creating a presentation by opening-up their presentation software of choice, and building their pitch from there. That’s the wrong way around. The message should be conceived first using pen and paper, a word processing application, or whatever feels most comfortable. It should be honed, edited, reviewed, and then locked-down. Only then should you fire-up PowerPoint, or whatever. Few people bother to go through this process – and it shows.

    A presentation is a story: it needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end.
    Delivering a presentation is theater: It’s showbiz. It calls on acting skills, public speaking skills, teaching skills, communications skills.

    Most people ‘hide’ behind their slide deck when they give a presentation. They hope that the text and visuals will do the majority of the work for them. But great presentations all have the same bottom-line: the deck’s content supports the presenter’s oratory: not the other way around. Watch any popular TED talk for proof.

  3. Martin Lindeskog

    Have you watched the video, “death by powerpoint”? 😉

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