Pitfalls in PowerPoint® presentations

PowerPoint® is a powerful tool for delivering information. Anyone who is familiar with slides will appreciate this vehicle for presenting data, pictures, sound, and charts, with the options of delivering the information via conventional foils or the projectors that can be attached to your computer. This program needs to be handled with care, because just as it can enhance your presentation, it can also backfire. Plan your delivery so that it follows a logical progression, and defend against the temptation of using all the bells and whistles. Also, remember, that as in all presentations, your script should complement the slides - in other words, don't simply read your slides, since your audience can do that as well as you can, and usually does.

A good way to plan your presentation is to first outline the project using a word processor. Write down what you want to achieve and create a skeleton of your presentation, with annotations about the graphics required, and any sound effects or animation you may want to use. If you're not handy with creating or editing graphics, you'd do well to team-up with someone who can. PowerPoint includes a variety of graphic creation and editing tools, but they are limited in scope; furthermore, given that the majority of presentations are created using those same tools, the end result can be boring. And if boredom is something you can tolerate, remember that complex ideas sometimes require custom handling.

Let's consider the pitfalls:

●A different style for every page.

A presentation should be designed to convey certain ideas. There are very few instances where changing style on every page will help in the process; in fact, it will likely become a major distraction.

●Complex diagrams and charts.

There are always solutions to creating complex diagrams and charts that are hard to follow. For example you can break them down into smaller components before reuniting them with fewer details.

●Random animation and sounds.

Less is better. Simplicity, even minimalism, not only adds credibility to your presentation, but also keeps it from becoming confusing. By all means introduce the occasional light-relief, but do it deliberately and with purpose.

●Predictable clip-art.

Have pity on your audience - how many clocks and piggy banks can they take? Try not to use the same icons as everyone-else, or at least see if you can find some original interpretations.

●Too many slides.

Not all elements of your presentation demand the use of a slide. Sometimes you can verbalize bridging notions (how about editing? Your audience will thank you for it).

Of course, only you can decide what it is you want to present and what tools to use. However, once you combine graphics, text, movies, and animation you have to grasp some of the technicalities in order to deliver a pleasant whole. Pictures, for example, require an understanding of the underlying product. You can enlarge or reduce a JPEG or other bit-mapped image, but best results are achieved when the original size approximates the size on your slide; vector-generated images scale up and down without loss of clarity, but bit-mapped pictures can become grossly distorted. Sounds, including music and narrative, should be well rehearsed to determine the best level for the environment you will be working.

Another brief note about compiling your presentation: tell your audience what it is you're going to present, deliver the story, recap what you said. Sure, you've heard this before in your public speaking class, but in the excitement of a multimedia show it's easy to forget.


Joe Gagliano began his career as a communicator with advertising and public relations activities for consumer accounts such as Hotpoint, Concord Electronics, Dodge Dealers Group, and Southern California S & L. In the late sixties he moved to the U.K., where he assumed the position of Advertising & PR Manager, Europe, with UCC subsidiary Computer Instrumentation Ltd. He later joined Memorex Corporation in London, where he had full promotional responsibility for Western Europe and the US...

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