23 Nov Focus on the details in your PowerPoint presentation

Story ByThe Modicum Team
Illustration ByJohn A.

When PowerPoint was the new kid on the block, all it really had to do to get results was show up. Just pick one of the templates, fill in the bullets and voilà, you had an executive-quality, boardroom-ready presentation.

But times have changed.

The same old tricks that once charmed the audience and got them leaning forward in their seats could now have them rolling their eyes, heaving heavy sighs, and reaching for their phones to tune you out entirely.

Don’t let bad slide design happen to you.

You’ve got the experience. You’ve got the knowledge. But if you appear to be out of touch, people may not care about what you have to say. 

If you want to impress your audience, good presentation design is essential. It’s wise to occasionally take stock of your bag of tricks and reconsider PowerPoint habits that may be past their prime. Here’s our list of common presentation mistakes and how to tackle them. 

1. Low-quality art

First, skip the clip art. Because it’s generic and low-quality, clip art does a poor job of communicating your message. If an image doesn’t serve a distinct purpose, you’re probably better off embracing the white space. 

In general, it’s best to stay away from the built-in art features of PowerPoint. Word Art, for example, is another PowerPoint design option that is more distracting than it is useful. 

Unlike clip art, stock photography can be a great tool for communicating your message. Human faces are inherently more relatable, and audiences pay attention to them. But they key with stock photography is to tread lightly, because there’s nothing relatable about generic “business” people standing in a row with their folded arms and dowdy suits.


PowerPoint tips - avoid bad stock photography

Be very picky about which stock photos you use to fill out your presentation. Stick with high-resolution shots that depict realistic-looking people behaving naturally. Death to the Stock Photo is a great, free resource for high-quality stock photos.

Rule of thumb: No art is always better than bad art.

2. Default slide templates

It’s safe to assume that your colleagues and clients all have Microsoft Office, too. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they can tell when you’re using a basic default PowerPoint template. The muted color schemes, hard-to-read fonts, and harsh gradient backgrounds of a PowerPoint template are not the ideal vehicle for presenting your information.

A bad template undermines your presentation by distracting from the content and sending the subconscious message that you didn’t care enough to format something fresh and unique. If you do need to pull a presentation together quickly using the default PowerPoint themes, customize them to your needs by adjusting the colors, fonts and backgrounds.

Rule of thumb: Don’t settle for a default theme just because it’s there. 

3. Animation, just because

Be wary of animation in your powerpoint. It should serve a purpose.

The era of skeuomorphism has passed, so people don’t need to see your slide turn over like an actual page in a book. Adding animation to make an illustration “dance” isn’t helping anyone understand your point any better either. 

Animation should only be used in a professional PowerPoint if it adds value to the content. How do you know if animations have value? Ask yourself these questions:

Does this slide animation serve a functional purpose?
Does it demonstrate something that I can’t convey with words and static images alone? Does it create a sense of momentum in the story I’m telling or reinforce a unified brand message?

Does this slide animation enhance my viewer’s understanding of the material?
Does it add clarity to my data or is it just a way to jazz up the material?

Is the animation executed well?
The effect you’re going for is “Wooooow,” not “Well, you tried.” Motion design not your forte? Consider getting a professional designer to handle the slide animations for you. If you are often explaining or demonstrating the same concept to various audiences, you can make use of professionally designed animations over and over again.


Rule of thumb: Invest in animation that is both functional and beautiful. 

4. Walls of text

PowerPoint tips - Too Long Didn't Read Wall of Text - George Clooney flips through a book TL;DR

Barreling through a series of bullets, data points, and jargon can leave your audience, especially visual learners, very lost.

Avoid burying important information in text blocks where they’ll be missed when your audience can’t keep up. Instead, distill your complex ideas into concise visual statements, only focus on one key idea per slide, and always keep the text brief and readable.

Rule of thumb: Keep presentation text brief by focusing in on the most important points.

5. Cue carding

PowerPoint tips - Use caveman speak. Only essential words on the slide. Elaborate with live talking points

Nothing is less effective than reading verbatim from your slides. An audience can typically read faster than you can talk, so in doing this, you’re giving the PowerPoint all the glory.

PowerPoint slides should feature language that will capture the audience’s attention and direct them to listen to you more closely. The slides introduce your point and your flawless elocution drives it home.

Rule of thumb: Don’t treat your slides like a teleprompter. 

6. Illegible fonts

Your font choices act as a tone of voice that sets the mood of your presentation, so you should make sure that your PowerPoint fonts are in line with the themes you’re discussing—and the type of people you expect to be in the audience.

Generally, you’ll want to keep your fonts simple and easy to read. You should only use fancy fonts, such as script or bold typewriter imitations, if they match the theme of your presentation. If a bold, crazy font does fit with your message, you should still limit it to title slides and headings. Otherwise, the audience will grow bored of it quickly.

This is another area where a professional slide designer can be a great relief. If you just want to focus on the meat of your presentation, let a presentation designer take care of the packaging.

Rule of thumb: Prioritize simplicity and legibility in fonts.

7. No video

It’s like the old saying goes—show, don’t tell.
Embedding a video into a presentation might seem complicated, but it’s actually fairly straightforward, and there are many benefits that make it worthwhile.

Instead of having to explain how your complex product works, you can actually show it in action. Instead of simply quoting a famous figure, you can show a video of the words coming straight from the horse’s mouth.

If you’re pitching a brand new concept or something very large-scale, you don’t have to rely on the audience’s imagination. You can have motion graphics designers animate your plan, bringing your idea to life.

Putting a sales video in your PowerPoint also gives you a few minutes to you catch your breath and review your notes, which is an added bonus you’ll be thankful for whether it’s fifteen minutes or an hours-long presentation.

Rule of thumb: Use video to explain complex concepts.

Putting PowerPoint strategy into action

So now you have the down-low on PowerPoint tricks that are going to wow people—and which moves have gone out of style. Whether you want to secure an investment, land a partnership, or deliver a report to high-level executives at your company, a professional slide designer can make a difference when you just don’t have the time or skills to make the updates yourself.

Whether you need custom data visualizations like charts, iconography, and motion for an upcoming presentation, or you need a simple template you can customize for all of your sales meetings, the Modicum team can help. No matter where you’re stuck along the pipeline, we’ll help you build the presentation that’s just right for you (and your audience). 

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