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5 Powerpoint Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make in Your Presentation

presentation mistakes, presentation errors, powerpoint mistakesWARNING!  CAUTION!  BE AFRAID—BE VERY AFRAID!  There’s a trap out there lurking for the guy or gal who presents ideas, whether it’s the fledgling business presenter or the professional speaker, and it will kill your speech faster than pungi sticks take their toll on the unwary boar.  “What is this fierce trap?” you ask, trembling, not sure if you really want an answer.  It is one of the most  stealthy, sinister, and downright evil pieces of technology ever to sabotage imprudent presenters—Powerpoint (hereinafter referred to as AV or any computer presentation technology resembling Powerpoint).

“Wait just a second there, ya goofy writer/speaker/business-owner guy you, AV stuff works great for presentations.  Why do you think Bill Gates makes bazillions each year peddling Powerpoint?”

That’s right Chauncy, he does.  Unfortunately the use of AV for presenting ideas, especially the computer generated variety, has become more abused than used over the years and can be as ineffectual as two scoops of creatine for the bodybuilder who forgot to cycle (ask a musclehead).  Presenters have become dependent on the Powerpoint slide and now their presentations suffer, making them look like foolish, driveling idiots.  Don’t let that fate happen to you.

Here are five, count ‘em 5, AV traps that you don’t want to make when using Powerpoint, slides, or even overheads, but you can and probably do make them now:

You don’t have a back-up plan

Oh how easy it is to fall into complacency isn’t it?  After all, I don’t need note cards because I’ll use the slides to jog my memory, right?  No, wrong!  A guy named Forest Gump popularized a saying I’m sure you’ve heard before,

“ Stuff happens.”

Bulbs burn out, electrical outlets don’t work, ceiling tiles fall from the sky—make sure you can do your bit sans AV equipment.  And the same thing goes for you webinar Maestros.  Just when you least expect it, your slides go dead with 150 people on line waiting for you to inform and entertain.  What will you do now?

Don’t believe it?  Learn from my tale of almost woe.  I gave an hour and a half presentation a decade ago in St. Louis.  It was heady, technical stuff.  I checked days and hours before the presentation to make sure the viewer was there for my Powerpoint presentation.  I was assured by the conference planning group that I was golden.  Take a guess what happened?  No viewer in my room ten minutes before my show.  I tracked down a stiff from the conference committee and persuaded him via my hands clenched around his throat to find one.  He did, four minutes before tee time.  In full view of the audience I’m setting up, looking like a jerk.  I did manage to get going.  Three slides in, the bulb on the viewer burns out.  No backup in sight, and my committee guy was long gone receiving medical attention.  Did I panic?  Of course, but luckily I had a back-up.  I gave out the handouts to attendees that I was saving for later and worked from them, slipping in a few self-deprecating jokes to ease the tension in the room.  Even if you weren’t a Boy Scout, BE PREPARED.

You’ve overcrowded your slides

How many times have you sat anywhere from the fifth row on back during a business presentation and went to the break with a sore neck and rubbing your eyes from all the craning and squinting that you did to try and read the presenters content?  If you’re like me, more than you’d care to remember.  Another aspect of speaker laziness is putting too much on the slides; that way the on screen note cards we’ve prepared will provide us with more content to spontaneously (yeah right) describe.  The visuals become overcrowded and confusing.  Bullet points only people, with five to six words per line and no more than seven text lines per slide.  Your visual aids should look like an outline, not prose.

Presenters love to busy-up their charts and graphs, seeing just how much of either they can get on the slide, thereby ensuring that no one can ready anything.  Hey you preparing your overheads with 18-point font—cease and desist!  No smaller than 24-point font on any slide is the rule of thumb you should live by.  Unless you’re speaking to a very small group only a few rows deep, fonts smaller than 24 point will stimulate more neck cramps or, even worse, your audience will just give up and play crossword puzzles.  Always remember and never forget this point—text on slides is just the skeleton that provides a framework for what you are saying.  It’s your job as a speaker to put the meat on that skeleton for the listener.  So why would you as a speaker clutter up your slides with too much stuff…

You’ve decided to read your visuals directly

Bad move, junior.  If you have ever been uncomfortable or even felt the pain of the speaker who stood at a podium, head down, and read his speech, just imagine how bad it looks to stand to the side of the screen, back turned to the audience, and then read from a slide.  Have I done this before?  You bet I have, but only in that rare case where the boss throws a presentation on my desk at 10:00 a.m. and tells me that I have to present to the board at 11:00 a.m.  Reading the visual aid comes from lack of preparation with the material…period.  The people in your audience are there to see you and hear your thoughts as an expert, not hear a reading of the presentation like a bedtime story.  If that’s your style, just provide the handout to the people and let them read in peace.  At least they can go at their own pace.

Question:  What do you do if you forget something and need to refer to one of your bullets?  Answer:  Look to the open laptop or overhead projector in front of you when walking by and retrieve the point without turning your back to the crowd.  If you avoid trap #1 and are prepared, a quick glance at the slide when you introduce it will trigger the mental images you need to explain the points to your listeners face to face with planned spontaneity.

You’re using graphics that are hard on the eyes

Especially true for Powerpoint, Corel Presentations and the like, presenters are getting more and more into using fancy colors and patterned backgrounds.  This is a “benefit” of these programs, right?  Sorry, no prize for you today if you said “Yes.”  They make look cooler than the Kia Soul Hamsters on your computer screen, but in larger format they become difficult to read and result in the same problems as with overcrowding, trap #2.  I sat in a presentation recently where the speaker used a Powerpoint background that was some sort of thatch design, eerily similar to one of the stock backgrounds used by Windows 98.  Trying to read the text made me feel like I was looking at one of those hidden art pictures where you intentionally lose focus for about forty minutes and Wah-lah!, it’s a tiger and an antelope playing together.  Not the activity that you want to promote, folks.

If you’re thinking you’re out of the woods on this one reader, check again.  Another one that I see all too often is the solid color dark background with white or yellow lettering to offset it.  Solid color background—good, dark color—bad.  While the contrast allows you to make out the letters with about 90% clarity, it is still hard on the audiences’ eyes.  To effectively use the dark background theory, you really have to dim the lights low, and in the dark room, you become the narrator of a short film, not a speaker who can connect on multiple levels with your hand gestures and eye contact.  Use a light background with dark color text and you won’t win the slide design of the year contest, but you will get your point across.  Which would you prefer?

Your sequence is out of kilter

I once saw national geographic photographer Dewitt Jones speak in San Antonio at an NSA (National Speakers Association) convention.  His keynote was highly AV oriented, using photographs that he had taken over the years to augment (not replace) his points.  What made it great was that he would make a point about something, finding the perfect balance in life, for example, wait a few seconds for us to think about it and then reveal a magnificent photo that had the entire audience thinking, “Of course.”  Timing is everything folks.

So what does that story have to do with you?  Most presenters, when they’ve got a great chart or a graph or a photo that will knock ‘em dead ala Dewitt Jones, reveal it first and then talk to it like it’s a muse.  Bad timing.  The audience begins formulating their opinion of the visual as soon as you unveil it—they can’t help it.  If it’s a chart (probably with the small type of trap #2) they’re already trying to read and decipher it.  If you use non-text slides during your program, set them up first and then reveal them.  You’re Andy Richter and the visual is the Conan O’Brien punch line.  This rule isn’t absolute but works 95% of the time, so run with it.

Now you know the five biggest mistakes you want to avoid when you use Powerpoint with your presentation.  If you have a back-up plan, keep the slide simple and uncluttered, don’t read the overheads, use clear and easy-to-read colors, and apply the correct timing with your picture aids, AV nightmares won’t get you down.  Now all you have to worry about is your appearance, your voice, your content, your……

Simple, right?

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