David Airey is an independent graphic designer working with companies of all sizes since 2005.

How NOT to use PowerPoint

I used to fear group presentations. Since back in the old days I’ve given more than enough talks (combined with a short spell as an English teacher) so they don’t bother me as much.

PowerPoint is common presentation software for preparing visual aids, but when was the last time you saw one that wasn’t cringeworthy?

Don McMillan gives a short comedy sketch (in the video above) around PowerPoint presentations and the common mistakes that people make.

Update: Really Bad Powerpoint — a relevant post on Seth’s blog.

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90 appreciated comments about “How NOT to use PowerPoint”

  1. Presentations no longer bother me, but when I first started….

    The most I ever presented to were about 200 council officers in the chamber at Exeter, first time I’d had to use a mic as well. Strangely, it was easier than some of the smaller talks.

    Thankfully I didn’t do any of the things mentioned in the video :-D

  2. I had to make a speech to a group of several hundred at age 12, so I had to get over the fear of speaking thing quickly.

    Later in life I became a corporate trainer and public speaking was the name of the game. Talking to groups didn’t bother me nearly so much as leading a training conference call, where you can’t get visual feedback from the audience. Makes it hard to know if your message is getting across properly (or at all!).

  3. Chris, what were you doing in front of all those council officers?

    Tina, no wonder you went on to become a corporate trainer. I can empathise with the conference calls.

    About eight or nine years ago, after I gave a presentation, I went to leave the room, not remembering that the door slid open and closed. Embarrassingly, I ended up pulling the glass door off the hinges, and was left holding my interviewer’s door.

  4. HAHAHA! man.. that covered the one that gets me the most… when people put every word they’re going to say. They mind as well hit play and sit down.

    great find, sir!

  5. Oh, that’s just so like most of the Powerpoint presentations I’ve had to sit through!

    During my time with a telecoms company, the two presentations that I was forced to create Powerpoint slideshows for (and that I designed rather than slapped together) generated almost 10k worth of new work between them!

  6. I got absolutely ripped at school by my professor once for a crappy powerpoint. The bullet points were more than one line long…

  7. Haha, funny you should post this. I’ve been preparing for today’s presentation for weeks. It’s not going to be longer than 10 minutes and the audience won’t be more than about 35 people, but I would still rather stay at home. :-D Now I’m going to go through it again, then head off to campus.

  8. That, powerpoint videao is so true, I hate powerpoint, its bad enough people using it but have you tried to design pages in it?

    I’m with you Asgeir any more than about 4 people to talk in front and my legs go to jelly.

  9. Want a job, Paul?

    Tara, I know exactly what you mean about the design capabilities. Not easy to find. Keeping it simple was the best way from my recollections.

    Asgeir, how’d your presenation go? I’m sure you did an excellent job.

  10. This is so true! For my line of work I think PowerPoint is great, but people really need to learn how to use it properly, as a badly designed presentation is distracting!!

  11. Funny video and so true. There is nothing wrong about computer-aided presentations but Powerpoint can make you go down the wrong way. Personally I try to use Apple´s Keynote application as often as I can. There are some wonderful templates in there that lead you in the right direction layout-wise. Also, Steve Jobs’ keynote presentations are a good example of how a it can be a strong visual aid instead of annoying. I watched the head of EMC, Joe Tucci, give a keynote last week and I was surprise how bad that Powerpoint was. I mean we were around 5000 people listening…

  12. With fear of public speaking only being trumped by death, too many speakers use PowerPoint as a crutch. And by using it, I mean abusing it.

    Public Speaking doesn’t have to be that scary and CAN be learned.

    And PowerPoint itself can be learned and become a productive visual aid to a well-developed presentation.

  13. Alexandra, exactly, even the big players can cock-up, as with the keynote from Tucci.

    Meg, is that your fear you mention? I fully agree that it’s all about learning and experience. The more times you talk in public the more natural you look and sound.

    Melanie, thanks for leaving your thoughts.

  14. Love the presentation….but you need a spellcheck for the blog….

    Creative presenations?
    vs
    Creative presentations?

    DOH…I know…”Homer moment”

  15. Thanks for the heads-up, Dennis.

  16. Just STUMBLED UPON your blog and you have some cool stuff hear. I’m giving you a thumbs up. Cheers!

  17. Hi David, getting a fair bit of Stumble attention, although as with most stumblers they come and go within seconds, so it’s good of you to have a look around.

  18. David, A great read, thank you very much for the good advise. I have been implementing many of your ideas and look forward to reporting my successes.
    Regards,
    Grant Thorpe
    Speaker, Coach, Business Mentor

  19. I have to agree with the appreciative comments. I’ve never used Powerpoint or any other presentationpackage as most of my work was done BC (Before Computers) but all of the points made related just as much to paper or overhead projector presentations. And thanks for the comment on fonts. Having spent many years in the printing industry I have seen so many terrible choices of fonts that it was good to see someone point it out.

  20. Love it. Am meant to be doing a presentation (eep!) at work soon on PowerPoint best practice, so there’s some handy tips here to take from it.

    Although to the Font Analysis section i’d add that if you use Comic Sans, then it means you’re Satan.

  21. In the US Military, PowerPoint is so pervasive that I think they are getting ready to award ribbons and badges for expertise in it! It’s funny how bent out of shape generals can get about the font you used, or if you used a 125% bullet instead of a 115%… Although in the end, I’m not sure anyone bothered to pay attention to the content!

  22. David, you wrote: “presenations”
    you should have run a ” speeel checker ” ^_^

  23. I think that the biggest problem seems to be using PowerPoint as a way to display speaker notes. The best presentations that I see are those that have large pictures and few words.

    I often use the analogy that there we read on screen at 100 words per minute. Slides with 100 + words on them are commonplace. It presents a problem to the audience.

    They can either
    - Read the words and not listen to the speaker – or
    - Listen to the speaker and not read the words. In which case why have the words on the screen in the first place?

  24. Typical eh?

  25. I thought the video was great, but I was disappointed to see that the sub-title of this blog and the opening paragraph has presentation spelled incorrectly — twice!! Didn’t the video teach us anything? :)

  26. I’ll keep an eye out for a Flash version for you, Mig. I think the audience reaction is a tad over the top but the points are all very valid. Thanks very much for the stumble.

  27. Stumbled! David, where do you find these things? LOL! This made my day. I’m waiting for a similar video on How NOT to Use Flash! :D

  28. Good video, indeed, but can be misunderstood. As far as I got it, the video doesn’t say you should not use sentences, bullets, animations, graphics, whatever. It just say everything must be used wisely.
    My rule of thomb is “keep the audience interested on you, not on the bright projected screen.” I do use powerpoint resources criteriously and I always recheck them to avoid that people will be more interested in the form I say things than in the things I say.

  29. I loved the comedy bit and agree about PowerPoint. My only fear about public speaking is that no one will ever ask me to.

  30. since you’re talking about powerpoint, what about talking about things one should not do as a PRESENTER?
    like saying ‘uuuuhhhhh’ after every two words. Or talking to your own hands. Or looking at that invisible guy at the end of the room all the time.. ;)

  31. lol @ putting every word on the presentation.

  32. We had a presentation this morning where in one presentor’s section every word he said was on the slide and we also had the complex graph slide. It was so noticable after having watched this it was difficult not to burst out laughing. We did laugh when he fumbled the laser pointer and managed to blank the presentation as well.

  33. I have written about bad ppt before. Guy Kawasaki is great for this and has some great pointers on how to improve on ppt efficiency. Anyone heard of the 10/20/30 rule?

  34. the bodylanguagelady on yourspeechcoachblog.com recently posted on this. It’s too bad pp is such a crutch.

  35. I can’t believe no one’s mentioned Edward Tufte’s brilliant essay “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.” (See http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_pp)

    Tufte effectively argues that PP presentations “usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis.” And, in the case of the Columbia accident, they may actually do great harm.

  36. I saw that video before, but it’s amazingly funny. Congrats on making the first page of Digg. You have a really good blog and it’s nice to see quality work rewarded!

  37. “And if you use Times New Roman it means you’re lazy and apathetic and unimaginative and that you always use the default” LOL! I guess that would be me!

  38. As a Virtual Presentation designer for Coaches and Public Speakers, I got a huge laugh at this clip. I “fight” with more of my clients to “keep it simple, stupid” that I care to count. Just because I am capable of creating all the bells and whistles and adding the kitchen sink to your presentation – does not mean you need it! At least not on every slide. Graphics and animation very definitely have their place in moderation, and depending on the industry, it is expected. However, NOONE wants to see an animated financial statement. Buddy, no matter how you try to hide it – you still lost money this quarter!

    I’d love to send this clip to my clients “anonymously”

    Thank you so much for a great laugh.

    Lauren

  39. I couldn’t agree more. Have been presenting, facilitating, teaching and lecturing to groups since I was 20; the “less is best” motto is paramount when it comes to using powerpoints and keynote.

    The more one has on powerpoint, the less one needs to be there. Additionally, the thing about overdone PPTs is that it can catch you out if you make a mistake.

    For those “newbies” to speaking in public, remember – NO ONE ELSE knows what you’re going to say. If you divert away (as a consequence of nervousness) from what you spent hours preparing, only you know. Enjoy the moment. It can be quite fun!

  40. David’s comments are all valid. I have been doing presentations in powerpoint for over 20 years and I learned all of these mistakes and common sense. I made it for a number of people and company executives and would insist on some key points to remember,(telling them is one thing but being listened to is another.) My first rule of thumb is, anything that a pair of normal eyes can’t read from a distance of 50 feet to the screen, should not be shown on the slide at all. Usualy a max of 12 bullet lines are appropriate, anything more than that will have to be on the next slide. Using one master on all the slides added is a must for consistency, this prevents the bullets from jumping from one place to another. Helvetica and Arial are the best fonts to use on text slides. Animations are good part of powerpoint and should be used to emphasize and not to distract the viewers eyes. Too contrasting colors and bright backgrounds that are not pleasant to the eyes should always be avoided. Having an audience who are color blind is another thing.Powerpoint is an interaction with the audience and the speaker (not necessarily the presentor) and should therefore not be used as if the audience is watching a movie.

  41. Dear friend.

    How can i obtain a clear (how not to use a power point) video? I can´t read the words, and i don´t understand your voice clearly.

    Thank you very much

    regards

    Charlie

  42. LOL! This clip is too good to be true. I sometimes teach a course called “Meetings and Presentatios”, and I think this will really get the student’s attention.
    Overall great job on the website. Greetings :D Mel

  43. this is very true, i hate people who do these things!

  44. This is as stupid as the people that used to say, “I hate answering machines” without thinking about it because it seemed so cool to say.

    The real problem is not Powerpoint but badly prepared presentations, no matter how they are done. Very few people know how to do them with any tools and so they are too long, complex, and boring.

    Think about something before repeat it like the mindless parrots you are.

  45. Re: James’s comment.

    James…well done! If you thought about it (for about three more seconds) you may have realised that this is exactly the point of the video.

    The video is titled “How Not to use Powerpoint” not “Powerpoint sucks…and here are the reasons why…”.

    By what you wrote above, you support the video ENTIRELY – which espouses (puts forward) the idea that powerpoint IS used poorly in “badly prepared presentations”.

    Consequently, are you admitting yourself to the realms of us “mindless parrots”?

  46. A few years back one prominent tech company banned Powerpoint, because staff wasted company time preparing the powerpoint presentations;

    1) too many font choices, 2) too many color choices, 3) too many design choices, and 4) too many cooks preparing the soup!!!

    When power point slides are printed on color printers, it gets real ugly! Expensive color printer cartridges get wasted, and wasted paper nobody read!

    Finally, someone brought this out in the open!!

  47. Hi David,
    Stumbled on your site, very much enjoyed the standup Comedian/Powerpoint presenter video, a good sense of humour is the best part of a good presentation! Thanks

    Herb

  48. This is the worst attempt at comedy I’ve ever seen. GOD AWFUL

  49. Excellent post and video. I think I was well taught but have seen many of these and I know I’ve fallen foul a few times.
    There is a rumour that parts of the US Military have banned powerpoint as a communication medium. Mostly due to all the poi8nts mentioned here.

  50. Funny! I first heard this guy on the Bob and Tom radio show last year.

    Glad to see Don McMillan is making the internet rounds again — that’s a key audience for him!

  51. Very funny. So true. I remember some doozies. I like the people who have to have a different transition on every slide. You don’t see it as much nowadays.

  52. Hilarious. I showed this to a bunch of grad students as an intro to my own presentation to them titled “How to make effective presentations.” They loved it… We all laughed so much. The students thanked me for an effective presentation and lots of fun, and they all said they remembered very well what this video was about, and won’t do it in their own dissertation defenses.

    Thanks for finding this gem.

  53. Hi Milica, glad your presentation went down well, and great that this video brought a few laughs.

  54. David,

    I am always looking to do things better and constantly ensuring myself that I’m not doing things poorly. After using powerpoint for for more than 400 presentations usually ranging between 30 and 40 minutes long I have found that the most effective use of PowerPoint usually comes when I try to attach a slide to the memory of the audience.

    I try to connect a picture with a past memory like ice cream, a sunset, etc. Although this can be somewhat more difficult in a pure business presentation, I do believe that most of the business presentations are presented incorrectly. PP needs to go beyond the robotic data driven presentations, of course, who your audience is drives the presentation.
    I have done presentations for military officials, corporate executives, non-profit groups and others.

    In other words, I try to use each PowerPoint slide as a memory initiator. I have found that PEOPLE DO NOT REMEMBER WORDS! The do remember pictures, smells, taste, touch, feelings. I ask myself how can I connect this data to something within my audience that they (hopefully) have already experienced. This is a technique that has helped me get good feedback and I’ve found that people actually remember what was said.

    Hopefully this helps.

  55. If you must use PP, i advise one key word per slide then talk. Otherwise just post them the deck!! Digital technologies can too often stop people thinking and expressing themselves with passion.

  56. Dan, Rick, thanks for your suggestions. I haven’t used PP in some time, but I agree with what you’re saying about limiting words.

  57. Wow, took me long enough to wander back to this post. I had forgotten that I commented on it, way back when.

    And my very delayed response to you, David, is, no. While I had a shy streak as a teen, for the most part, I make a good chunk of my living from talking in public and helping other shy folks work through that.

    Your video is a great illustration of so many presentations I’ve been to, in my day.

    And it still cracks me up.

    Sincerely,

    Meg

  58. Thank you! I hope I will never again ruin a power point with these errors.
    P.S. Dan, your comment about making the slides into memory joggers is very insightful.

  59. Help! I have created my first power point presentation for my business (a home staging/design company) complete with before and after video and background music. I can burn it on CD’s to mail, but when I try to email it, the fonts come out much bigger and some copy is right off the page. Obviously I want to email it as a show so potential clients (realtors) can view it as a show only. What am I doing wrong? I embedded the true fonts? Any ideas?

  60. Very funny. So true. I remember some doozies. I like the people who have to have a different transition on every slide. You don’t see it as much nowadays.

  61. Linda – two comments up – the best place to get answers to problems like that is the comprehensive PowerPoint FAQs site http://pptfaq.com/ (not mine).

    David – it was great to see this video again. It hasn’t been bettered. There are lots of internet resources for people who want to move away from text-based presentations to more visual ones. Glen Millar’s PowerPoint workbench (http://www.pptworkbench.com/ ) is great for getting to grips with visuals and animations, and advanced presenters should look into Robert Lane’s http://www.aspirecomunications.com which has amazing demo videos on using PowerPoint in a non-linear and interactive way. Finally, may I mention Opazity ( http://www.opazity.com ), my own plug-in for PowerPoint which helps presenters focus audiences’ attention by creating an opaque glass effect – amongst others- that can be faded in or out at the appropriate moment to reveal the image beneath.

  62. Steve,

    Many thanks for answering Linda’s comment above. I appreciate that.

    Glad you enjoyed watching the video again too, and good of you to take the time to comment.

  63. Just as you earlier mate, I am too scaring of presentations. It just scaries me to talk in to public, don’t know why… But I do enjoy making them :) And especially looking at my final result.

  64. This may be an old post, but I just have to comment on it because presentations in real-life, especially in front of large audiences take a massive amount of courage and of course the skill needed. Back to video, I just want to say that I have seen way to many people by now doing it.

  65. Adam, you brought me back here for the first time in a while, and the YouTube video I linked to was no longer available. I’ve updated it now, so it’ll work on my site. Cheers.

  66. I kinda like the guy who presented this. A pretty funny dude, indeed. Actually I burst into laughter when watching this…

  67. This is freaking hilarious! As a teacher who often uses powerpoints, I could help but crack up!

  68. I found this video a few years back, and During my speech class at my university, we made the teacher play this to the class, and he is going to play this to the rest of his speech students each term. Hopefully.

  69. You’re more than welcome, Jeffrey. Thankfully I’ve not yet learnt if Macs are coffee-proof. For your benefit, I hope so. ;)

  70. Is there any way you could give this presentation to the military? The ARMY (which I am in) lives on Power Point. Every mistake you pointed out I see on a weekly basis. You are an inspiration for this alone!

  71. Also is there a higher resolution copy of this available and maybe the full feature somewhere?

  72. I don’t know of any, Will. Sorry.

  73. That is getting passed around the office. I cannot believe I have not seen that before. Hopefully the guys here take note.

  74. Another one who stumbled across this.. although it appears not to have had a comment for a while.

    Interesting to say the least.

    I’ve been a trainer/coach for several years now and was told catagorically recently that ‘it’s not proper training unless a PowerPoint presentation is used…’
    By used there is the insistance that every bit of the trainer’s delivery be in a handout and that this is then replicated on the slides!

    Nothing new it seems but oh so frustrating when there is a complete lack of understanding by those with the power when it comes to effective delivery. aaaarrrrgh!!!!

    Phew, now I’ve ranted I feel better – thanks.

  75. LOL, just found your site and will be back reguarly. This one made me chuckle though. I’ve sat through many presentations just like this! Oh my eyes feel heavy once again …

  76. Wow, this is still appropriate after 2 years, just shows how much we all “love” Powerpoint, Video next?

  77. Thankfully, Mark, I’ve not had much need for PowerPoint since I first published this post. Just one client presentation, and then it was me who created the slides.

  78. Great tips. More people should give this a thought.

  79. I teach a research seminar at the Art Institute of Seattle in which the students present their findings before a panel of industry professionals related to their topic. I try to steer them into good presentation practices, and I would love to show them this video.
    I also require them to produce premissions for all the images they use, so I’m asking for your permission to show your video in class. I think it would get the point across to them effectively.
    Thank you,
    Ellen Vance

  80. The video isn’t mine, Ellen. It’s embedded from Vimeo.com. I’m glad you found it of interest, though.

  81. Tee hee. I’m just putting together a presentation on how not to use PowerPoint. What really made me laugh though… was on the video guy’s first slide. There was a spelling error. Top marks to anyone who can find it…

  82. Hi David,

    I am an Adjunct Professor with Kaplan University. For a couple of years I taught applications. One day while looking for something interesting to introduce the PowerPoint segment I stumbled on a site that had your video. I provided a link to the site to my students. They loved it as much as I do.

    I am glad to see that you have it on a site that you either own or are connected to. I am currently teaching Database Management classes using Access. I am about to give my students the address of this site because what you have to say applies to database forms and reports too.

    Thanks so much for an opportunity to lighten up my classes and provide very meaningful information at the same time.

  83. No problem, Ronald.

  84. But I love Times New Roman…..really!

    Terrific presentation otherwise…

  85. It’s really funny, you point out so many problems that are dealt with in visual communication in general (from powerpoint to brochures to web design). Clients tend to dismiss these things as self-important designer mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t actually matter, and it’s difficult to convince them otherwise. This video does a great job of using humor to bring light to real everyday problems in visual communications! Thanks!

  86. While very true for power point presentations (that are actually presented on screen), people now use powerpoint for far more things than it was designed for. The reason a lot of slides have “over information” is that they are meant to be printed out and studied later…

    I personally agree with all the points for a presentation, but I also use powerpoint extensively for small designs (that don’t need a sledgehammer–read ACAD) and find that this is a little known use for powerpoint.

  87. Even though I am a powerpoint designer who does nothing else all day long, for a living, I’m still terrified when I have to do a presentation for a group of more than 25 people :)

  88. Entertaining video, but he lost a lot of credibility in my eyes when the slide prior to the one where he complains about spelling errors, there is a blatant misuse of “your” at the beginning of the sentence instead of “you.” But funny, nonetheless.

  89. I really love your video, it helped me understand what to do and not to do when making a Powerpoint presentation. I have a question would the use of sound in a presentation be veiwed as professional? Would it keep your audience focused or not?

  90. I’d give it a miss, Jacqueline, and don’t be afraid of a little silence, a pause in speaking. It can help keep attention, too.

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