WHPRMS October Blog: Is your PowerPoint on Point?

Bad PowerPoint presentations are beginning to fascinate me.


“PowerPoints” are a tool designed to improve our knowledge and understanding of subject matter, yet they are widely misused. Who hasn’t sat through a dreadful PowerPoint presentation that felt like it would never end?

I have, and some of them were from colleagues in our field. As communications professionals, it’s time we up our game.

Here are some common PowerPoint presentation mistakes I’ve seen lately:

  • The main point is buried.
  • The entire speech – word for word – is on-screen.
  • Facts are overused.

When putting your presentation together, be sure to identify your main point, the point you want your audience to understand, at the beginning so you can reinforce it throughout your presentation. Most times, your first draft is sufficient, so trust your gut instinct. Less is more. Avoid the tendency to add other indirect, off-point messages that do not really support the main point. If you don’t, your audience will zoom out.

My pet peeve, and probably yours too, is when presenters include their entire script – word for agonizing word – on-screen. Right or wrong, my impression is that the presenter didn’t practice enough or he/she is not confident in their ability to deliver the message on their own. They use PowerPoint as their crutch. When this happens, the speaker loses credibility.

Ask a presenter why they want to include paragraphs of information in a PowerPoint, and they will tell you it’s for the benefit of the audience; audience members will be able to refer to the material days, weeks, months or even years later, they say.

I don’t really buy that.

Besides, audience members can read the slides faster than the presenter can read them, making it more likely they will get bored and tune out. I know this because I do it. A shorter, tighter, and more interesting PowerPoint – complete with infographics, interesting photos, and lots of eye contact on your part – will engage and endear your audience to your message.  Save the less important information for handouts after the presentation.

It may seem like a good idea to include a lot of facts and stats to drive home your main point. Unfortunately, it only muddies it. People not only lose interest in the presentation, but they have less recall when a multitude of stats are included. It’s a good idea to use only a handful of the best, most recent statistics available. Save other stats, again, for a fact sheet that can be distributed post presentation.

My advice is to keep your main message, your golden egg, your bright and shiny object out there for people to understand. Avoid jargon and acronyms because there will be people in your audience who don’t know what they mean – including staff members. Use interesting infographics over bullet point sentences to illustrate your point.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to show your work to a trusted co-worker or your boss prior to the presentation. You will quickly learn whether the content is overcooked.

Do you have any PowerPoint tips you would like to share? Email me at michael.wiltse@journeymhc.org.

Mike Wiltse is associate director of communications for Journey Mental Health Center in Madison.