Monday to Wednesday, 10am - 4pm, ET
1.855.281.5499 (toll free)

How to Design a Bad Presentation

Ways to misuse visuals, text, and animation in a PowerPoint presentation

This article was adapted from TechSoup

By: Brian Satterfield

March 20, 2007

This article is the first part in TechSoup's series on creating and giving effective presentations. Read part two, How to Deliver a Bad Presentation, to learn the do's and don'ts of speaking in front of an audience.

If you've ever prepared a presentation for your nonprofit, chances are you've used (or considered using) a slideshow. Whether conducted via old-fashioned slides, transparencies, on software such as OpenOffice ImpressMicrosoft PowerPoint (available as a donation to qualifying nonprofits and libraries at TechSoup Canada), or even an online presentation suite like SlideRocket (available to as a donation to qualifying nonprofits and libraries at TechSoup Canada), a good slideshow can enhance your presentations, allowing you to underscore key points and support your statements with visual aids such as charts and graphs.

A poorly created slideshow presentation, however, can often have the opposite effect, leaving your audience confused, apathetic, or even frustrated with the topic at hand.

Fortunately, designing a compelling, understandable slide presentation isn't rocket science — if you recognize what elements to include and which to leave out. The next time you need to whip up a compelling presentation, remember to avoid the following common (but easily remedied) blunders.

1. Jam as much information into the slides as possible.

If you don't have a lot of experience creating presentations, you may assume that the more information you include, the more your audience will learn and retain. This is often not the case.

Taking a less-is-more approach when deciding how much information to include is frequently the most effective choice, according to Andy Goodman, author of the book Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes.

"Most people walking out of a presentation are only going to remember a handful of things," said Goodman. "If you overwhelm them, they're going to tune out and turn off, and you've lost them."

Goodman suggests focusing a presentation's information on three to five main points. He also recommends that each slide focus on one primary idea, along with key supporting points.

"I don't like to overburden the slides with too much content," said Goodman. "And really, the whole point of a slide is to be a support for the presenter."

2. Avoid the use of visuals.

When creating your presentation, taking an all-text, all-the-time approach cause your audience's attention to wander. Instead, spice up your presentation by including a few judiciously placed photos or graphics.

Images can lend an element of visual appeal, but avoid using them gratuitously. Select only those graphics that relate to or support your main points. If you're giving a presentation on homeless people's rights, for example, photos of your constituents will be a much more powerful visual aid than clip art of flowers.

Also avoid adding too many images to a single slide or placing them haphazardly. all programs come with a number of pre-designed templates with well-placed slots for photos, charts, and other graphics. If you have limited design experience, you may wish to use these templates to create your presentation or as reference guides for a custom design.

You can download additional, free PowerPoint templates at Microsoft's official template page. Impress templates are available at OO Extra's Impress Templates page.

3. Use plenty of animations — just because you can.

While animations can be fun, too many flashing icons may overwhelm your audience or steal the spotlight from key information. As with images, use animations sparingly and judiciously.

Animations are useful to a presentation when they help control the flow of information, said Goodman. For example, an animation could reveal the contents of a diagram or chart bit by bit, helping your audience focus on how information has changed over time.

Animations can also be an effective tool when they help add context, adds Goodman. "If you have a quote from a book and you [use an animation to] show the book cover, then the quote literally slides out of the book to suggest that the quote comes form the book. That's animation to convey meaning."

4. Use transitions arbitrarily.

Though audiences are most accustomed to straight cuts between slides, Goodman says, the use of transitions can sometimes help an audience better understand a presentation's structure.

For example, PowerPoint's "Fade Through Black" transition, which dissolves a slide to black before bringing up another, can be used to denote the introduction of a new topic, Goodman said.

"[The Fade Through Black transition] gives a sense to the room that one subject has ended and another subject is beginning," Goodman noted.

5. Use tiny, hard-to-read fonts.

Because your audience will most likely be viewing your presentation from a distance, make sure that the text size is large enough for them to read. As a general rule of thumb, Goodman suggests using font sizes of 20 points and larger, though he explains that the size of your audience, room, and projection screen should be taken into consideration.

Slides may also be easier to read from a distance if you use sans serif rather than serif typefaces, which are more ornamental. Sans serif fonts found in PowerPoint and Impress include Arial (the default font for both programs), Century Gothic, and Verdana.

6. Choose color schemes at random.

Hot pink and baby blue might be your two personal favorites, but that doesn't mean they're the right color choice for your presentation. Not only can incompatible font and background colors detract from a presentation's credibility, they can also make it illegible.

Using light-colored text on dark backgrounds and vice versa will help you achieve a desirable level of contrast and readability. If you're unsure where to begin, start with PowerPoint's design templates, which choose the colors for you. These colors can further be customized with PowerPoint's built-in Color Schemes tool, which lets you apply a few sets of background and text colors to individual slides or to the entire presentation.

7. Don't proofread.

A slideshow riddled with typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors can cause you and your organization to look unprofessional. Before you finalize your presentation, check each slide for punctuation, missing words or characters, and usage and agreement problems. After you've manually proofread your work, you may want to double-check your spelling by using the slide application's built-in spellchecking tool.

8. Forget the feedback.

Keep in mind that your presentation means nothing if your audience doesn't understand it. Enlist a friend or colleague to review or watch your presentation and give you feedback on its design, structure, layout, and tone. A fresh pair of eyes may be better able to spot errors or inconsistencies you, as the author, may have overlooked.

With your visuals and information in place, you're almost ready to impress your audience. To learn how to deliver your presentation as flawlessly as you've designed it, read TechSoup's article How to Deliver a Bad Presentation