How to avoid death by powerpoint

We’ve all been at a bad presentation – whether at an event or at work – and intimately know the feeling of #DeathByPowerpoint. So, let’s be clear: there is no excuse for bad slides.

You sit down for a talk that you’ve been looking forward to hearing. The speaker walks onto the stage and readies themselves for the talk. They lift up their clicker and begin, but then, to your disappointment, and then horror, they begin to read from their slides. The font is small and difficult to read, the pictures are pixelated and uneven, and, sure enough, you and the rest of the audience slowly switches off.

Unfortunately, being able to pull together a great slide deck is often a skill everyone assumes you pick up along the way (somewhere, somehow!). So, to combat this common assumption, we’ve pulled together some very easy and practical advice to ensure your slides are always on point.

Firstly, why do we bother using slides in the first place? Do you even need them – especially when some slides can be so dull? Well, the answer is yes and no. Slides can be incredibly useful aids for illustrating the content and message of your talk. They can easily paint a picture and take your audience to a particular place or atmosphere. When explaining a difficult concept, slides can be necessary to help the audience focus on what you’re saying. In general, slides can help anchor your audience and allow them to connect the dots between your various points.

However, slides are not always necessary and some of the greatest talks you’ll ever go to will never use them. A good slide should do one of the following:

  • Reveal something that is hard to describe
  • Explain, show or tell something to create greater curiosity
  • Create wonder by showing something beautiful or amazing

If your slides aren’t doing any of the above, then challenge yourself to ask whether you need a slide for this content. Everytime you go to present with slides, you should treat this as an opportunity to refine how you use visual aids to enhance your content and not as an afterthought to pull together at the last moment.

With this in mind, here are some practical dos and don’ts for creating your perfect slide deck:

    • Full size images are best
      Full size images that can cover the entire slide have a lot of impact – these sized images works regardless if the image is part of your talk or is acting as a complimentary background. Make sure pictures have high resolution, as pixelated images are distracting and look unprofessional.
    • Multiple images should be in a grid
      If you want to use a selection of images, always make sure they are in a grid formation. The uniformity of a grid makes the images look like they been selected and framed with purpose and for impact.
    • Don’t steal images you don’t own
      Regardless of which style of images you are using, make sure you have copyright to use them. Don’t use images from the internet unless they are clearly licensed under Creative Commons for use. You can search licensed pictures via Creative Commons here or on websites like Unsplash here.
    • Keep titles the same font size and keep the body text the same font size 
      A basic but often forgotten rule – all the titles should be in the same font and size and all body text should be in the same, smaller font and size.
    • KEEP THE FONT SIZE BIG – or people won’t be able to read it
      A good trick to ensure your presentation is readable is whether you can read your slides from at least ten feet from your computer screen. If you can’t read it from there, people in the back of the room will not be able to read it either.
    • Use a colour that people can read 
      Your text and the background should contrast each other. A simple, elegant background behind your text can complement and enhance the readability of your words.
    • Keep content minimal
      Remember you rarely need more than six lines of text on a slide – think short phrases, statements, quotes or simple statistics. It helps to think of text as an image and often only a line or two will do. Keep a margin around your text – as much as you would when typing on a piece of paper – the margin will help everyone to read your slides.
    • Use spellchec adn proofreed you slides
      There is nothing more distracting than a seeing a typo or unclear phrasing whilst someone is speaking. Always make sure to spell check and proofread your slides and get a fresh pair of eyes from a friend or colleague to help you review them.
    • Embed your fonts
      Embed your fonts into your slides to avoid having your lovely fonts and layouts changed when using different versions of Windows. It’s easy to embed fonts into your document (google how depending on your version of Windows). However, keep in mind some older versions of MAC will not have this option and some fonts have special copyright so you will not be able to embed them.
    • Keep graphs simple and accurate
      Graphs and charts need to be kept simple whilst being accurate. Make sure you have clear labels on all axes and data points and that these labels are a readable font size.
    • Check the projection size
      If you are presenting somewhere new, you should check projection size with the events organisers. Slides are usually automatically set up in an 4:3 aspect; however in some cases your projector might actually be a widescreen aspect of 16:9. If you need to, it’s easy to convert your slides from 4:3 to 16:9, but be aware – your slides may have been stretched and compressed in the process.
    • Create a safety net for your content – send a pdf!
      Create a pdf of your finished presentation and send this over to the event organiser so they know exactly how your presentation should look. Hopefully this means any issues will be flagged before you get on stage!
    • Write your talk first, create your slides second
      Tempting as it is use slides as a way of structuring your content, or to keep fiddling with them to the last hour, that’s not the purpose of a visual aid. To increase the impact of your presentation, aim to refine the content first and then spend plenty of time rehearsing your talks with your supporting slides.

We hope these tips will help you use slides confidently and effectively and ensure that you will never be found guilty of #DeathByPowerpoint. Email us and tell us if this was useful and how you’ve use these tips in your presentations!