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Worst ways to use PowerPoint

PowerPoint’s features have been used and abused in some terribly consistent ways. Here’s how to use them best.

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For better or worse, PowerPoint presentations are used at some point in every business. Even as competitors have attempted to challenge it, the Microsoft program has remained a staple of pretty much every boardroom meeting and keynote address known to man. But while it has successfully maintained its place on people’s taskbars, its various features have been used and abused in ways so terribly consistent that it’s time to address them head on. Which is why, today, in the bluntest way possible, I’m going to take you through the worst ways to use PowerPoint, and the best ways to avoid making your presentations less distracting and more effective.

Too much text in bullet points

If you actually want people to listen while you talk, limit the amount of text you put in your bullet points. People are always going to try and attempt to read what you show them, but they’ll be doing so while you’re talking, meaning they probably won’t process what you’re saying or what they’re reading. Remember that they’ve come to see this information presented to them by you, not your slides. Keep the text you do include to a minimum.

Color schemes that are hard to read

Red text on a blue background or vice versa may sound pretty stupid, but what’s alarming is how commonly used this color scheme actually is. It literally makes your slides look like they’re vibrating. Other mistakes include text and backgrounds too similar in contrast, like grey and white, or black and grey. There’s also a pretty misguided trend of using black backgrounds with white text. While contrast is normally good, in a darkened room, for those with poor vision (like me) the white of the text will often blow out and look blurry. Black text on a white background, or a color scheme similar in contrast will usually work best the majority of the time.

Treating slides like a script

Each of your slides should supplement and emphasize what you’re saying, not house your entire script. Way too often, people fill their slides with paragraphs of information that they then just stand there and read. Firstly, if you’re reading your entire presentation to an audience, you’re likely not looking them in the eye (unless you’re capable of having one eye look at the screen and the other at the crowd, which in itself would be a distraction). Don’t use your slides as a crutch. Figure out what you’re trying to say and either print out cue cards, or use the ‘Speaker Notes’ function of PowerPoint which allows you to put notes on your screen in presentation mode so that the audience can’t see them (yep, PowerPoint can do that). Use your notes and presentation as triggers rather than rather than a script, reading off of them verbatim. It looks unnatural and makes the presentation visually unappealing.

Cool it on the effects

Speaking of visually unappealing, you might want to pull back on the use of effects. It’s not the 90s anymore – I’d say there are pretty few people left in the world whose minds would be genuinely blown seeing text slide across the screen. Basic or no animation tends to look more professional these days. Get to your point! If you feel the need to have each of your bullet points appear one by one, have them simply appear, fade, or, at the most, (and this is kind of pushing it these days,) ‘Fly in’ from one side. Don’t break it up by letter. And do not add a ‘whoosh’ sound effect to each animation. Trust me, I’ve seen it done before and it wasn’t pretty.

Using default themes

These usually don’t look good. They’re not always terrible, but often if you’re an uncreative person, you’ll pick a pretty bad one. If you’re out of ideas, or just generally uninspired, use a white background with black text and pick a nice font (not Comic Sans.) Or look at some of the hundreds of professional PowerPoint templates we have on Envato Elements or Graphic River. In fact, there’s a whole list we put together!

Risky font choices

Listen, we’ve all been tempted from time to time to use a font that’s a little…different. A PowerPoint presentation – unless it’s actually about weird fonts – is not the place to take that kind of risk. Simple sans serifs are the way to go in these situations. Things need to be legible and help emphasize your points, not distract from them. If your font choice raises questions in the audience’s heads, prompting them to have to look twice to figure out what the words on the screen actually say, you’ve created a distraction that takes away from your presentation. Consider your fonts carefully. When in doubt, go for legibility and simplicity over ‘unique.’

Wordart

While the default Wordart styles PowerPoint offers today aren’t as disgusting as their mid 00s counterparts, they’re still pretty unusable. To make your use of Wordart look remotely sophisticated, you need to use the plainest option, white with a black outline, and completely customize it – something that actually involves a bit of design sensibility, which, in reality, not everyone is going to have. If you’re in the Wordart library, I’m sorry to say that you’re probably doomed.

Clipart

Clipart may not be as bad as it used to be, but there’s still some stuff in that library that is terrible. And I mean, TEH-RAH-BUL. While there are a few gems to be found, the tragic truth is that if you’re still using Clipart and haven’t discovered the plethora of sites that have good images, GIFs, and more, the likelihood of you being savvy enough to know what’s visually in vogue is low. Either don’t use images at all, or buy a subscription to Envato Elements where you’ll always be guaranteed great quality, sleek illustrations and, pretty soon, photos too.

What I hope you’ll take away

While we’re a long way off of ridding the world of bad presentations entirely, I hope this guide will, at the very least, put you on alert. Share it with all your friends and colleagues and I’m sure it won’t be long before you witness a presentation where someone breaks one or more of these cardinal sins. Perhaps you’ll forward them this article, and we can begin the process of eliminating the worst uses of PowerPoint one presentation at a time.

NOW READ: 50 Best PowerPoint templates of 2017

Want to know how to give your best presentation – and why so many fail? Download our free ebook, The Complete Guide to Great Presentations

Dom Hennequin

About the Author Dom Hennequin

Dom is the host of the Envato Famous Five, and the editor of community.envato.com