Four Ways Not to Suck at PowerPoint Presentations, Part Two

My most important presentation was lacking in three big ways.

Despite having spent three weeks preparing my slides (which was wrong as I point out in part one yesterday), they still lacked three critical pieces. If you have not read part one, do so now. I discuss the worst mistake I made in delivering my presentation. Most people make the same mistake. I also offer six tips for fixing that mistake.


PowerPoint presentations usually suck for four reasons. Here’s three of them. (Click to Tweet)

So what was wrong with my slides? Why did they lack clarity and effectiveness?

Mistake Two: My slides weren’t readable. Ever tried to read 12-point from fifteen feet away? Ever left a presentation with a screaming headache? Not only did I try to cram too much on one slide, rather than write in bullets as I suggested yesterday, but the text I had was unreadable.

Lesson Two: Test it on screen. If possible, as you are writing your slides, test them on the screen you will be using and seat in the farthest seat away from it. This will show you what they look like to the audience and give you time to edit them as needed.

Mistake Three: My slides were inconsistent. Every slide title had a different font in a different size. Every transition was different. Some slides had an image on the right, some on the left. Some slides had the words illustrated in boxes, some in circles. It was stylistically a disaster.

Lesson Three: Maintain visual harmony. It is critical that every slide is visually harmonious. If, on the first slide, the title is 28-point Arial font, then every title on your presentation should be 28-point Arial. The same goes for subheadings, bullet text, etc. Stay consistent and your audience will be able to follow along easier. The easier it is for them to follow the slides, the more they can pay attention to you.

Mistake Four: My slides had no theme or threads. In addition to the inconsistency, there was no theme tying the presentation together and no threads connecting similar topics.

Lesson Four: Create visual themes. An effective presentation must make it easy for the audience to connect similar themes and topics. In my presentation, I intended to convey three major objectives: increasing conversion rates, increasing average order size, and increasing post-purchase customer engagement. Within each objective, there were three main methods to accomplish them and three goals.

Each objective should have its own color assigned to it. Every time I mention that objective, it should be in the assigned color. As I mentioned in my third lesson, in my example, each objective would have the same font and size, and the same for each method and goal.

Here is an example below. The slide on the left shows the three objectives and the slide on the right shows the next mention of the first objective.

powerpoint presentation visual theme

If you learn from my mistakes and follow these lessons, your next presentation is guaranteed to wow the crowd…and give you the result you want.

Which of these lessons will have the biggest impact on your presentations?

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  • Good points, Matt.

  • Such a good post. I have heard that you should never go below 28pt font. I once paid to see Deepak Chopra do a presentation and I would guess he got 60K for it and his slides where unreadable.

  • I really like the lesso of testing it on screen!! What a great idea! I’m giving my presentation in the conference room just across the lobby from my desk, I will certainly be in there testing it 5 or more times to make sure that it works like I want it to! Thanks for your insight Matt!

    • I forgot a point in there…if you cannot test them on the screen, get an idea for what size the screen is. Assuming it is the standard 4:3 screen and approximately 48X64″ then test it on your computer screen.

      Zoom it to about 350% (depends on monitor size so that is average) and stand as far away as the farthest person will be. That gives you an idea of what is readable. Then use that as the baseline font size. For most fonts, it will be 18-point on the low end, but some can go as low as 15-16 on a good screen and some need to be in the 20’s.

  • Good post. I don’t want my presentations looking like everyone else, so I usually buy a good template. I am not into animations, I think they take away, unless it’s a major, point. I take my cues from Steve Jobs presentations, little text, but huge impact.

  • Readable slides….. I’m hoping that my audience isn’t just reading my slides. I’m hoping that my “slides” are simply a way to draw my audience or connect my audience into what I’m presenting orally. Over the years, people have come to depend way too much on powerpoint slides as a crutch for presenting anything. What happened to telling a story? Making a point? And encouraging the audience to take action? Presentations that do this will have an impact!

    • Totally Jon. See Part one yesterday…I think you will like it!

  • I’d watch your colors – what looks good on the monitor doesn’t always look okay on the screen. Plus watch out for greens which are tough on those who are color blind.

    • Very good points Tom.

      “Meld colors” (what I call yellow-orange, blue-green, etc.) can often go either way on a large projection screen. A lot of it depends on the quality of screen and we just don’t know until we do it. Again, if possible, test it and adjust the screen settings or your presentation settings. If everything is lighter or darker on the screen, adjust accordingly.

      I’ve also found that using a dark gray text works really well on a white background. It helps reduce the “halo effect” for the large percentage of us who have astigmatisms.

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