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The 10 Sins of PowerPoint
Published Friday, March 7, 2014
by Gary Chapman

Speakers often commit a myriad of sins when using PowerPoint in their presentations. Here are the most common for which they should give penance:

1. Parroting the Slides

PowerPoint is now used frequently as a speaker’s crutch, especially when the speaker is just repeating what’s displayed. This diminishes a listener’s attention, shifts attention from the speaker to the screen, and detracts from the speaker’s ability to engage with the audience.

2. Information Overload

Many PowerPoint users put so much information on a single slide that the typical audience member can’t read it easily or doesn’t even try. PowerPoint is best used as a tool of illustration—to show audiences things that supplement and enhance what the speaker is saying.

3. Getting Tricky

PowerPoint contains tricks for slide transitions or text and graphics animation that are almost all unnecessary, distracting, and too cute. Tricks such as text that bounces into the screen, or shoots into the slide from the side margins, add nothing to the presentation and usually detract from its professionalism.

4. The Wince Factor

Everyone has seen a PowerPoint presentation that exhibits an awful, sometimes even embarrassing, lack of design sense, especially when the presentation is displayed in low-contrast colors that make it difficult to read.

5. Tech Trip Up

PowerPoint routinely does something that trips up a speaker, who is suddenly stalled and sometimes mutters about what has gone wrong. When PowerPoint’s behavior gets in the way of delivering a speech, the speaker was unprepared as PowerPoint should simply enhance a speech.

6. The Disconnect

Many speakers assume when they use PowerPoint they should have a slide on the screen during the entire presentation. This is not true, as the audience is then forced to stare at a PowerPoint slide that has lost any connection to what is being said.

7. Letting the Slides Do All the Work

Many speakers who use PowerPoint put little or no effort into their own engagement with the audience. “Screen accompanied by still-life of speaker” is unfortunately the most common picture of using PowerPoint.

8. Cursor Whiplash

Speakers who use a projector attached to a computer routinely forget that the sizes of the computer screen and that of the projection screen are vastly different, so when a speaker whips a cursor around on the computer’s screen, audience members get whiplash trying to follow the cursor around on the projection screen. What seems normal to do on a computer screen often looks like an incomprehensible psychedelic light show on a projection screen.

9. PowerPoint Dependence

Audiences sense when a speaker is dependent on PowerPoint, and they quickly grasp that the content of the speech is tied to the length of the PowerPoint presentation. This shifts the audience’s attention to how many slides there are, or, if the slides are delivered as handouts, how many are left to go.

10. Prepping PowerPoint Instead of Speech

People who use PowerPoint often think that preparing a speech means preparing a PowerPoint presentation and then delivering that with accompanying oral commentary. What PowerPoint can do should not be the starting point of an effective presentation. Have a prepared speech.

 The late Gary Chapman was a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.

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