Three Sins to Sink Your Slides

presentation slides, presentations

Whether you use PowerPoint, Keynote, PDF, or any other presentation slide authoring software, here are 3 sins to avoid if you want to create slides that most effectively get your message across.

Sin #1: Writing Presentation Slides Before Your Speech

People come to a presentation to listen to what you have to say, not read your slides. If they expect to read slides, they will just ask for them so that they can do so at their own pace and leisure. And if you don’t meet this expectation, one of two things might happen:

  • Your audience will spend their time reading your slides whilst you speak. In other words, instead of focusing on you and your spoken words, their attention will be elsewhere. And because different people read at different paces, you will have little chance of ensuring that you keep everyone synchronised with the point you are making.
  • Your audience will get bored, slide fatigued, and in some cases even irritated. “How much longer is this going to go for” will be the primary thought in their minds, rather than your core message.

And to make things worse, you will likely just follow your slides in what you have to say, making you a voice over for your slides, instead of a powerful, engaging presenter commanding your room.

To avoid committing this sin, always work out what you want to say, before opening up the computer and designing your slide. At the point of designing your slide, your task is to work out what text, pictures, symbols, colours, and models best support your key message that you’ve already written down.

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Sin #2: Overloading Presentation Slides With Content

I remember one of my past bosses who always challenged me to produce short presentation packs. “Give me a one pager” he would often say. The one pager would inevitably cram as much content and messages as possible, almost as if whitespace was a measure of waste. The end result was a highly valuable slide, but a complete disaster for a presentation.

Jam packing your slides with lots of content for reading or publishing is fine, but for presenting, it kills you on stage. Too much content and your audience will go into reading mode and tune out from what you are saying. Too much content and your audience will get confused. They won’t know what to look for, where to start, and maybe even get lost as to what point you are actually making. Too much content also usually means everything is smaller on the slide to make everything fit, and depending on your presentation venue, those furthest away from the screen may have a little trouble seeing the content. A little trouble here equals a lot of trouble convincing them on your message no matter how good a speaker you are.

Less is More.

To avoid committing this sin, spread your content over multiple slides. This has two benefits. Firstly it simplifies your slide, making it easier for the audience to understand what you are showing on any one slide. This then allows them to fully transition back to what you are saying once they’ve “got” the meaning of your slide. Secondly, it means you will be changing your slides more often. Every time you advance your slide, everyone in the audience automatically becomes re-engaged with your presentation. It’s like when the TV channel is flicked to another channel on the TV. No matter whether you were watching the TV or not, your attention is (at least momentarily) shifted to the TV to see what’s on when the channel is changed.

Sin #3: Design Presentation Slides For Reading Instead Of Speaking

Presentation software such as MS Powerpoint can be used to create content for more than just presentations. Reports, brochures, posters, are amongst the many uses of presentation software. However how a slide might be designed for a report or brochure, is a very different proposition to designing a slide for a presentation. The key difference to remember is that slides for a presentation are designed to support what you say, and therefore do not need to make sense when reading them standalone.

And it’s because of this that you can eliminate lots of text, sentences, and content from your slides. That’s no doubt all in your speech and so there’s no need to replicate that onto your slide. To avoid committing this sin, show just the keyword/s you want your audience to remember, and think about whether a symbol, picture, or other visual indicator can represent your message.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Show the picture. Say the thousand words.


Most people can’t read, interpret, and listen at the same time, or at least, do so with much effectiveness. Don’t treat your presentation slides like a document. Don’t treat your presentation slides like a spreadsheet. And don’t make your presentation slides your speech. The keys to making slides work with you and not against you is to develop them AFTER you have worked out what you want to say and design with simplicity and consistency.

What other presentation slides sins are you aware of?

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