Avoiding the 5 Most Common PowerPoint® Slide Mistakes

The beauty of Microsoft® PowerPoint® is that it is relatively easy to learn and, even if you have never used it before, you can create decent presentation slides in no time. However, just because you CAN make slides doesn’t mean you SHOULD make slides right off the bat. At least, not until you learn some basics to avoid the most common errors even veteran users make when using this software.

Here are five mistakes people make when using PowerPoint®. Just by making sure you avoid these will make your presentation slides better than 90 percent of all the other ones in and outside your office.

  1. Not doing your pre-design work

The most common mistake people make is not doing enough preparation before they begin making slides. The result can be a mishmash of slides and styles that take away from your presentation instead of enhancing it. Before you even open up PowerPoint®, you need to know the purpose of your slides and the message you want to get across to your audience. The four aspects of your presentation you need to figure out first are:

  • Presentation type: Is your presentation going to be persuasive, educational, informative or something else?
  • Message: What is your core message? Also, what are the peripheral points you want to make and what supporting materials do you need to make slides for?
  • Audience: How big or small is your audience? Can you anticipate your audience being resistant to your message or accepting?
  • Delivery context: What kind of room will you be in when making the presentation? A small meeting room at your office or a large auditorium? How long does your presentation last … for a few minutes to an hour or more? Or is the whole thing going to be done online, like a webinar?

Once you answer these four things, then you can start creating your magnificent new slides.

  1. Going overboard with graphics … or not using enough

The use of graphics comes in at #2 because, even for  PowerPoint pros, it’s very tough to decide how many graphics to use. Graphics should enhance your presentation and not simply add variety to slides. Too many people think their slides are too boring and overdose on graphics. Or, they go to the other extreme and don’t use a single graphic in a 40-slide presentation. For most people, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.

Graphics are used for many helpful purposes:

  • As the sole message for the slide
  • As a graphical representation of data
  • Assists the text in delivering the message
  • Brands the presentation or company
  • Provides consistency and theme elements throughout

The three most common mistakes when using graphics are:

  • Using them because you think your slide are boring
  • Creating graphics that your audience cannot see properly
  • And, using text when a nice graphic would sum up your message visually

Remember that a picture can be worth a thousand words, but it’s only worth using if it doesn’t take you two thousand words to explain it. Avoid most of your mistakes with graphic by following these guidelines and use visuals that:

  • Match the slides in color and theme
  • Look professional
  • Are acceptable to the audience
  • Match with your organization’s culture
  • Match with the audience culture
  1. Font inconsistency

Unless you’re a graphic artist or designer who are masters of using fonts, font inconsistency is the third-most common area where people mess up their PowerPoint® slides. Non-artists tend to release their inner graphic designer and go overboard using several font styles to emphasize different bits of information on their slides. However, too many fonts make your slides look unprofessional and sloppy.

Some people don’t use too many fonts, but they fall in love with unusual fonts that are a little too quirky for making a presentation slide. Fonts such as Broadway, Algerian or, heaven forbid, Old English Text, are fun to use if you’re posting a sign on the break room wall announcing a pot luck lunch at the end of the month, but are killers in slides. The problem with these “fun” fonts is that they are extremely hard to read. But, it’s not just the quirky fonts that are trouble as some normal serif fonts such as Times New Roman or Palatino can be difficult to read at times.

Instead, use sans-serif fonts like Ariel, Courier, Verdana or Helvetica. Ariel is one of the most popular choices because it is compatible on PCs and Macs simultaneously and will look the same on either. Finally, don’t make your font size too small to read. A good rule of thumb is use nothing below 24-point and you should be fine.

  1. Overreliance on animation

Animations are beneficial to add a splash of pizzazz to your presentation, but often get overused because people think too many of their slides are boring. You want to use animations with a purpose and with restraint to make them more effective. Unless you’re the Creative Director of Disney, you’re probably not talented or disciplined enough to go full-out animating your slides.

While animated characters used sparingly can add punch to your presentation, the most common animation mistake people make is going gonzo with animating text on slides. They’ll make text boxes spin and shoot from side to side, sometimes completely off the screen and then back again. It can get dizzying to maintain focus and, if too much is happening onscreen, the less they are concentrating on what you’re saying.

For business purposes, stick to the following simple animations when producing your slides:

  • Appear – The object simply pops on the screen
  • Fade – The object fades in or out in a way that’s a bit slicker and more deliberate
  • Wipe – Imagine an invisible eraser wipes the object on or off of the slide
  • Zoom – The object appears as if from far away, “zooming” forward into position (Many PowerPoint® pros prefer this particular animation to add emphasis to important points)
  1. Picking the wrong colors

Picking the right colors is crucial in creating effective slides. You already know that a particular color elicits a specific response from most people, some positive and others negative. You’ll want to avoid colors that bring about negative responses, unless that is what you want to do in the first place. Putting your color scheme together in the right way can be difficult if you’re not used to working with color.

If you work for a corporation that has a style guide, the decision is taken out of your hands because the graphic designers and artists have probably created a template that you have to use for any presentation outside of the company. Don’t get cute … use the template. Having said that, it’s still important to know how to select colors, because when you create diagrams, graphs, or other visuals, you have to choose complementary colors can be seen on top of the background. Not all the decisions about color choice can be defined within a template. If you have the option, consult a designer on staff and get professional advice on color options.

The lesson here with PowerPoint® slides is that generally, less is more. Add a few of these touches to give your presentation a little extra sparkle. Just remember that the line between “eye-catching and informative” and “what-was-he/she-thinking?” is slim.

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