How to avoid Death by PowerPoint

Not a term we enjoy using, but ‘Death by PowerPoint’ basically means boredom at the hands of bad presentation design.

Too much text, nonsensical charts, and a speaker who hurriedly blurts out nonsense, while also expecting you to watch a video: we’ve all had an experience like that. If you’re about to make a presentation, and fear ‘killing’ the attention and enthusiasm of your audience, relax. Here are F5 Presentation’s top tips for how to avoid Death by PowerPoint.

1, Storyboard your key ideas

No, close PowerPoint right now; we’re not starting there. Get a pad and pen and jot down exactly what is it you want your audience to take away from your presentation. What are the key ideas you want them to understand? What will you leave them thinking about?

Once you know this (and this can be as significant as ‘invest millions in my company’, or as simple as ‘sales were up last month’) you can begin storyboarding your presentation. Lay out these keys points in a logical order to start building the narrative of your PowerPoint deck.

It’s at this point that you can start jotting down notes about what you’ll be saying and think about what will be on each slide. You can therefore be sure that one compliments the other. If you already have a script written, consider how each segment of that can be split up and condensed into your storyboard. Once all the important stuff is in there, surely now you can start thinking about slide design, right?


2, Research your audience and where you’re presenting

With a basic structure in place, one that hits all the key points you’re trying to make, you should start to tailor it to avoid the dreaded Death by PowerPoint. Altering your content, slides, and presentation style to match the needs, wants, and expectations of your audience can be a massive boost. As we wrote about in this blog post about using humour in a presentation, getting the tone correct is important.

Find out who it is you’re presenting to. Depending on the nature of your presentation, you might not know until you do your research. Discovering, for example, that the crowd will be mostly younger people, will help you set the tone and get you thinking about any content and design changes.

Also find out where you’ll be making your presentation. This isn’t necessarily a problem if you’re making an internal presentation in the company boardroom, but definitely one for travelling salespeople to consider (as discussed in this post).

What technology will be available to you to use on the day? Is your audience a small group of executives expecting to see your slides on your laptop? Or have you got a 500 inch projection screen to fill before an audience of 1000 people? Whichever is true, knowing beforehand will inform the design and layout choices you’ll make later, helping you nail it and avoid Death by PowerPoint.

3, Keep it clean

Not a reference to what sort of jokes to drop, but rather a comment about design. Here at F5 we’ve all sat through painful presentations where each slide was crammed with text and data. We’ve all lost focus at some point, and have indeed suffered from Death by PowerPoint.

Therefore, time and time again we repeat the advice of keeping things clean and simple. Less definitely is more. If you’re not overpowering your audience with information, and instead using the slide as a useful backdrop to your speech, you’ll keep their attention.

This post should help with some pointers about good design, but here is something to remember. Typically, you’ll be talking for about two to three minutes per each slide. The words you say are the most important part of the presentation, not the info on screen.

Your audience will notice the new slide pop up, take on board the data or images, then flick back to you. You might refocus their attention back onto the slide for whatever reason during those two to three minutes, but it’s your words that moves everything along and gets them thinking about the reason you’re here today – the things you set down while storyboarding.

4, Embrace the new

Even someone who experiences very few presentations in their working life will have noticed a trend shift. Whereas traditionally PowerPoint drew jokes and mockery for being boring (giving life the Death by PowerPoint saying we try to avoid in the first place), these days it’s bloody impressive.

Since the 2016 update to PowerPoint, Microsoft’s presentation tool allows even the casual user to create slide decks that are visually stunning. The easiest way to inject a bit of wow into your presentation is the function called Morph. We’ve written more about it here, but Morph essentially allows you to animate objects while transitioning from slide to slide.

At this stage you can start experimenting with innovative features like Morph, and also Zoom. Zoom allows you to create your whole presentation in a non-linear fashion, meaning you can leap from slide to slide via an interactive menu. Better suited to the likes of sales people who have to adapt their speech to the needs and enquiries of clients, Zoom can still be employed in a ‘stand-up’ presentation. So should you feel the need to skip over a section you can do so without awkwardly flicking past a dozen slides.

5, Now calm down

Sorry to put the kibosh on your enthusiasm for all you new found skills. We want to make sure you remember the ‘less is more’ advice from point three. Although features like Morph are a great way to create a bit of motion in your deck, needlessly animated transitions shouldn’t be used too much.

Deciding how the slide transitions should appear is often one of the last considerations when designing a PowerPoint deck. If we’re being honest, not every presentation needs any at all, although something gentle and subtle – such as a fade or dissolve – often works best. Check out this video we made about slide transitions and how to use them. As you’ll see, PowerPoint has some really silly ones, fit only for making school children giggle.

Once you have transitions (if any) in place, and you’re happy with the entire deck, you can start the single most important part of any presentation, and the one that will be sure to avoid your audience contracting Death by PowerPoint…

6, Rehearsing

Seriously, rehearse the crap out of your presentation. Know it backwards, sidewards, inside-outwards. Being confident about what you are saying will result in your overall confidence growing. This video offers tips about how to appear more confident when making a presentation, and as we say there, rehearsing is a huge part of that.

An audience will feel uncomfortable if the person presenting to them lacks confidence and is visibly nervous. This will distract them from the key points you went there to communicate. There is a lot that goes into making someone a more confident speaker, including diet and sleep. But the most important is being able to trust in yourself that you know exactly what it is you need to say.

So rehearse. And rehearse again, damn it.

Tick all those pointers off your list when creating a new presentation and you’ll be well on your way to success. The more of us who pull off great and engaging presentations, the quicker the ‘Death by PowerPoint’ saying will be consigned to history.

F5 Presentations can be your one-stop presentation shop, handling all your outsourced PowerPoint design and developing needs. Our round-the-clock service ensures that you and your team are well armed to tackle any public speaking situation, from TED Talks to sales pitches.

Talk to us today and find out how we can make your life easier.