Dodging “Death by PowerPoint”

by Dawn Bjork, MCT, The Software Pro®
Microsoft Certified Trainer, Technology Speaker, Software Consultant


“Goody! Another slide!” said nobody, ever.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Death by PowerPoint.” People acknowledge it, laugh about it, and hate it when they are in an audience yet many continue to be guilty of doing it themselves! During PowerPoint and presentation skills training, I often ask participants for the top PowerPoint sins they hate seeing. The guilty behaviors include the usual suspects: reading bullet slides to the audience … word for word; flat narrative with no interaction; slides with text that is too small, too hard to read, or with bad contrast; and other equally awful ways which cause an audience to disengage and to spend the rest of the meeting checking e-mail on their phones.

How can presenters and their admins avoid “Death by PowerPoint” and other presentation sins?

1). Set the Goal. Establish the presentation goal or objective and target this throughout the preparation of the presentation. Be clear on the one key action or result you can deliver as a takeaway for meeting participants. A sure way to create a bored audience is to have them wondering “What’s the point?” or “Why do I care?”

2). Create a Plan. Design the presentation first. Write it, diagram it on a whiteboard, create an outline, build a mind map or choose another useful way to organize what you want to present and how you want to do it. There should be no more than 3-5 main ideas in any one presentation. Then look to see where you can add PowerPoint to reinforce the message. Keep in mind, a slide deck isn’t a presentation and the presentation doesn’t have to be delivered exclusively with PowerPoint. Move detailed content to a place where your audience members can actually benefit from the reference: a handout or resource manual, your organization Intranet or cloud, or a website. Make sure the flow and structure of your plan includes clear, logical sections for each key topic, for example, by adding a title slide for each main section. A confused audience is a disconnected audience.

3). Be Visual. Add graphics rather than bullet points whenever possible. Graphics help tell a story better than a dry laundry list of items. When words are necessary, avoid paragraphs. A bullet or a text box should be no longer than 2 lines so it is easy to read and the presenter (hopefully) avoids the temptation to read everything on the slide. Explore the SmartArt feature which adds graphic appeal. Also, look for where you can bring in relevant video and audio to communicate a key point instead of using a static slide.

4). Keep it Simple. Avoid too many “bells and whistles” like different font colors and styles, annoying animation, complicated charts, etc. The focus needs to be on the information, not the slide. A complex chart or worksheet might be readable when printed but it needs a makeover before you drop it into a slide. Only keep the key points and eliminate busy backgrounds and drawing elements. For a more professional result, take advantage of the Slide Master feature in PowerPoint to build a consistent look and feel to the entire presentation.

5). Keep It Moving. Add appropriate animation and transitions to layer on topics and to improve engagement. Animating a graphic, chart, or even a bullet list adds interest and helps the presenter control the delivery of content. To counter our increasingly distracted world, build in some type of visual change every 15-60 seconds. No one, except maybe the presenter, wants to stare at the same slide for 10 minutes.

6). Commit to Practice. Audience members also disengage when the presenter struggles with the delivery of a presentation. Encourage your team to practice running the slide show so they are comfortable with timing and flow. Although PowerPoint includes a Rehearse Timings feature, I just set a timer and practice the presentation multiple times to make sure the content fits the available timeframe. Build in space for questions and possible technical glitches and adjust content as needed. Also leverage the Presenter View in PowerPoint for practice and even delivery.

7). Become a PowerPoint Ninja. Learn the PowerPoint keyboard shortcuts for delivering a slide show. To get a pop-up list of shortcuts and tips, run a slide show and press the F1 function key. Some of my favorites are the left and right arrow keys to easily move to the previous or next slides without the mouse. Also try the “B” key to turn your screen black while you are in the Slide Show view. Use this when you want to change topics and take the focus away from the current slide—great for adding facilitation and more discussions. Tip: press the “B” key again to return to the current slide.

Another delivery tip is to create a list of all slides. I print out the presentation with the Handouts feature and jot down the slide number next to each slide. This helps you skip slides if time is an issue, or to jump back and forth in the slide deck to address audience questions. To move to a specific slide during a presentation just type the slide number then press [Enter]—it’s that easy! Much better than rapidly clicking through slides you don’t have time to show or escaping out of the presentation to fumble around looking for a specific slide. Click here to download your own handout of PowerPoint keyboard shortcuts.
Keep in mind, with PowerPoint presentations, less is more. Trust me … rarely, if ever, have audience members said, “Oh goody, another slide!”

Discover more PowerPoint tips, tricks, and techniques at my IAAP TEC16 session Presentation Success: Dodging “Death by PowerPoint”




Dawn Bjork is The Software Pro® and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor and certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to increase your productivity through her work as a technology speaker, software trainer, computer consultant, and author of 9 books. Discover more software tips, tricks, and timesavers at


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