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Can You Read This? January 7, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
Tags: , , ,

We’ve all been in this situation.

You’re sitting through some PowerPoint presentation when the speaker puts up a slide and comments, “I know you can’t read this slide, but…”

But what?  “But I thought I’d waste your time with it?”  “But I really like it anyway?”  “But my need to talk completely outranks your need to stay awake?”

But, nothing.  This is one of the biggest, rudest mistakes a speaker can make.  The point of any presentation is to effectively convey information to an audience and leave them with a positive impression of the speaker.  The audience is investing their precious time to gain knowledge.  By giving them a slide that is unreadable, you have wasted their time, diminished their trust, and made it that much harder to teach them anything.

PowerPoint may be one of the most abused tools in the history of computing, if only because you can use it to torment so many people at once in a captive situation.  The purpose of a slide deck is to enhance your presentation, add value to what you are saying, and help your audience follow your ideas.  It is not a shared teleprompter that you read to your audience, nor is it a reproduction of a white paper that you talk over.

Well-crafted slide decks generate interest and keep your audience engaged.  They provide useful illustrations that bring your words to life, or provide a skeltal structure that you fill out verbally. They should be readable from every point in the room, and use color schemes that do not induce seizures among the more sensitive in the audience. And for the compulsive in the room, please make sure the bullets and indents are consistently and correctly applied in each and every slide.  A little time spent making your slides perfect demonstrates your respect for your audience.

Now don’t get me started on the what follows the presentation: “I’d like to give a demo of our product, even though these screens are kind of hard to read…”


1. Bill Petro - January 21, 2009

Here’s the one I like. Presenter says,

“I hate this slide…”

It makes me wonder, “Is there someone in the room with a gun who is FORCING you to show this slide, or do you have full editorial control over what you’re showing me? If the latter, why not just show me the slides you like. I may like them too. I probably won’t like the ones you hate, and I definitely won’t like the ones you SAY you hate.

2. Heather Hollick - May 14, 2009


The most powerful use of PowerPoint is to provide a visual hook for the ideas that you are offering. Don’t distract your audience, give them a visual cue to associate with the ideas. Images are great. Very short bullets are a reasonable alternative.

If you have additional material that you simply want the audience to have, prepare a printed handout that they can take home.

Let’s start a movement. Let’s all agree to raise our hands when a slide pops up full of dense text and ask the presenter to be quiet for a few minutes while we read what they have written. Get up and walk closer to the screen if necessary. I am sure the speaker will welcome the interruption. After all, they really, really want us to have that material.

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