Watching people debunking marketing myths, particularly designers, cringe when I mention PowerPoint is one of my favourite things about my job. The visible discomfort they express tells me all kinds of stories in an instant – the past trauma of school presentations, WordArt, and transition animations that haunt their memories. Let’s lean into the stigma surrounding PPT and illuminate some of the shade it catches.
Historic misuse of PowerPoint doesn’t necessarily make it a bad design program. If I drive drunk and hit a pedestrian, Toyota and Jameson aren’t the ones getting blamed or sued. Just because your presentation puts three people in a coma, doesn’t make it PowerPoint’s fault. Let’s stop putting the onus on PowerPoint and try to understand the cardinal sins presenters are committing.
David JP Phillips’ TEDx Talk, ‘How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint’ is a revelation for those who’ve simply dabbled in PPT and don’t completely understand its potential. As Phillips highlights, the presenter is the presentation while the PowerPoint is merely a visual aid.
There are five key areas points that Phillips addresses in terms of PowerPoint sins that we’ve all been guilty of at some point in our schooling days or careers.
Five ways to debunking death by PPT
- Keep to one message per slide since people are extremely limited in understanding and focusing on more than that.
- Remember working memory and the redundancy effect. As Phillips explains, “If you have text sentences on your PowerPoint and you persist with the unknowing idea of speaking at the same time, what will be remembered by the audience is zero or very close to zero”.
- Size matters (but not how you’d think). “Every PowerPoint template is built like this, where the headline is the biggest object and the content is the smallest – going absolutely opposite to our biological reactions,” Phillips says. “The most important part of your PowerPoint should be the biggest.”
- Contrast controls our focus. “PowerPoint is not supposed to have white backgrounds. If I do this [use a black background with white text], your eyes relax, you focus on me. I’m the biggest object, I’m the most contrast-rich object.” This is important because the presenter is always the presentation while the PowerPoint is simply a visual aid.
- The amount of on-screen objects is the difference between audiences counting and seeing. Phillips believes six is the magic number. “If you’ve got seven or more objects, you’ve got to be aware that all the people in there have to use 500 per cent more energy and cognitive resources to understand what’s in your PowerPoint.”
All these points come down a simple philosophy that we’ve been advocating from the start: less is more!
The reason a lot of presentations fail is because presenters tend to dump heaps of information onto their slides. And the busier the slides, the less audiences engage or retain.
Phillips put it succinctly, “The amount of slides in your PowerPoint has never been the problem; it is the amount of objects per slide which has been the problem.”
The above PPT no-nos cover a wide range of mistakes that could easily be avoided with a little more design consciousness. After all, no designer in their right mind would pack a slideshow with heavy chunks of text, loud colour-choices, or pointless imagery.
It’s understandable other professionals may do this out of ‘presenter panic’, but we’re here to break those nasty habits and get everyone on a more aesthetically pleasing path. Design and marketing have that in common – the sheer beauty in simplicity and letting the work speak for itself.
Avoid these easy pitfalls with some PowerPoint templates – free to download and easy to use, so you can utilise PowerPoint to its fullest potential.