Avoiding PowerPoint Abuse

By Jerry Pearson
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Terry Campus

As a media specialist on our campus, I intro_ladyquite often get asked to help instructors and administration with PowerPoint presentations. Often, I see presentations that inhibit the message rather than highlight it.

The delivery method should not overshadow the message, it should enhance it  without drawing attention to itself. Designing a presentation that accentuates the message is easy, as long as you follow some simple guidelines. These guidelines promote clarity in text and graphics as well as the layout of the slide itself.

Let’s start with the message itself. After the title slide, have a slide that outlines the content of what you will cover in the presentation. Keep it short and simple, no more than seven bullets. If you have more topics to cover, you may want to chunk it into two or more presentations to avoid overwhelming your audience. When designing the slides for your topic, be sure to keep the slide titles relevant and in sequence to the outline you gave at the beginning.

bulletsAs for the content for each slide, use bullet format. Using bullet format for your text keeps your audience focused on what you are saying and not reading the slide. It also help the audience remember what you said by associating it with the short statements to help recall it later.

Lastly, don’t overwhelm your audience by putting too many bullets on a slide. As a rule, I normally recommend no more than seven bullets. If you can break the information up into two or more slides, do it and take advantage of chunking the information into smaller and more digestible bits of content.

Another guideline to help emphasize your content is to standardize the presentation’s appearance. The first step here is to pick a font that is easy to read and professional in appearance. The font must be large enough for the person in the back of the room to read, but also viewable on a mobile device.


Try to stick with one font if possible and avoid using more than three font colors. To go along with the font color, I want to emphasize the contrast between the font and the background. Text size, font, color, and contrast play an important role making your presentation readable to everyone, including those that don’t see very well or are color blind.

This brings me to the next point of standardizing your presentation, backgrounds and graphics. Backgrounds should be low key, complement your message, and provide a good contrast to your text. Avoid backgrounds that are busy or draw attention and don’t change the background unless it is absolutely necessary to avoid an anticipation of background changes.

When done correctly, the background will help draw the audience into the message. Graphics are another vital key to a successful presentation. Use them only when you need to help explain, complement, or emphasize something. Graphics also set and vary the tone of your presentation. Using them to fill an empty space or just because they look cool to you only serve to distract your audience.

Another distraction can be the overuse or inappropriate use of animation, actions and highlights. PowerPoint is packed with animation effects that are very tempting. Animation, like any other element in your presentation, should only be use to emphasize a key point or keep your audience focused on what you are talking about. Overuse tends to de-emphasize everything and inappropriate use is a quick way to turn your audience off.

Generally, I keep my entrances and exits limited to fade, appear, or disappear. This keeps the message more important but still lets me control what the audience sees and when they see it, thus helping them stay focused on the message. I will sparingly use animation or motion paths to emphasize key words and phrases or to help conceptualization, but only the very important ones. This also helps vary the pace and tone of the presentation as well.

A well-made and successful presentation is not difficult if you just remember that your goal is getting the message across to your audience. Use your slides to control the amount of information you give your audience into digestible chunks. Keep your text readable and only use graphics that complement or enhance your message. Use animation to help pace your presentation as well as highlight key points or concepts. success

Remember, your delivery tools should enrich–not overshadow or distract from–your message. Following a few simple guidelines, planning, and stepping back to evaluate can take you a long way to creating an impactful and successful presentation.

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