Business presentations in PowerPoint: How do you think they can be improved?

Published by | Thursday, September 15th, 2011

As a follow-up to PowerPoint 2010 Essential Training, we’re working on an intermediate course that covers business presentation design and delivery with PowerPoint. We’d like to hear what you want improved in the presentations you’ve participated in, either as a creator, presenter, or an audience member.

1. Neon colors, background images, cartoonish fonts: what’s attractive or fun to the creator might give the audience a headache. In terms of design, what kinds of things make you cringe as an audience member?

2. If you create business presentations, what aspects of design do you struggle with?

3. Some presenters make you sit up and take notes. Others make you watch the clock. When it comes to the delivery of a presentation, what are your pet peeves—and your best memories?

4. If you give business presentations, in what ways would you like to improve your delivery skills?

Please share your thoughts on any or all of these questions in the comments, and your suggestions and questions will help shape this upcoming course. Thank you!

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8 Responses to “Business presentations in PowerPoint: How do you think they can be improved?”

  1. Brad says:

    Many people think the PowerPoint is just a data dump to the audience and then “let them figure it out”.
    I always cringe when someone puts up an eye chart with LOTS of text and then says “I don’t expect you to read this”. . . Then why did you put it up? Summarize the information into at most three points and then just have keywords on the screen while you give the summary.
    If it is more complicated then that then split it up into multiple slides. I would much rather have 30 short slides then 10 wordy slides that get read to me. (And don’t read to the audience, chances are that they read at a different rate than you read and then all you have done is lost them as an interested party.)
    There are a few great books about presentation design: Slideology, Why most PowerPoint Presentations Suck, and Back of the Napkin.

    Basically take some time and invest in your audience. Put yourself in their place (without your knowledge or passion for the topic) and treat them with respect.


  2. Dean says:

    One of the best presentations I’ve ever seen had no words, all photographs. But they were nice photographs displaying before and after results of this guy’s work in retail design. Many bad presentations I’ve seen have also had a lot of pictures in them, but cheesy stock photography that has little or nothing to do with the topic. So I think a lot of photos are nice, when they’re relevant.

    And then, many presentations I’ve seen have charts and graphs for analysis, but the ones I remember made comparisons to everyday things. Like, “if you add up the number of cars manufactured in the US, it would wrap around the earth XX times.” So nice graphs are good, but when they can be visually overlaid on a comparison that brings it down to earth, that’s when it’s gotten my attention.

    So my “want” would be to learn how to intermix graphs and photos to create a story and impact, the way Al Gore did :)

  3. Anna says:

    Some of the best presentations I’ve seen have come from Apple. The designs are simple: not too many fonts, colors, transitions, etc. In terms of delivery, things are broken into relevant segments that build to a grand conclusion and final quick overview. The amount of information covered is just right, not too little and not too much.

    As a presentation designer I am sometimes given the content by a company on a basic (or not so basic) PPT. Often, the creator did not make a master PPT and every slide background was created and recreated with obvious placement differences like jumping logos, titles, photos, etc. Sometimes the presentation has been through several different hands and each slide may be composed on a different theme. The first thing I do is to create one master for branding and overall theme, then I will create a couple bullet or photo masters depending on the content.

    After creating the master I often comb through the content and break things down to key points as some of the other comments mention. However, because I deal frequently with cross-cultural presentations where language can be a barrier, the amount of content and presentation of that content differs. For instance, when there are language barriers the audience may prefer to read the presentation almost as if it were a book. In this case more information can be included paragraph style instead of key points.

    As a presenter, I feel it is important to engage the audience and encourage feedback. This can sometimes be difficult, especially in larger audiences. The best large scale presentations I’ve seen take the form of a narrative or conversation with the audience. It can be tricky keeping a presentation from becoming a lecture. I think what separates the two is when the presenter explains why the information he/she is covering is relevant to the discussion.

    I think the hardest thing to make really work in a presentation are charts and graphs. They need to be done in a way that easily makes sense and is appropriate to the audience. As the previous comment says, when they’re done right, you sit up and pay attention.

    Overall, I would like to see a course that covered creating (and using) master templates, creating relevant charts and graphs, and how to engage the audience.

  4. Garth says:

    Don’t start with PowerPoint!

    If you are going to give a presentation/speech/training event, start with the main ideas or points you are trying to convey. Write those on a piece of paper (or in your word processor of choice)!

    Now write out how these have value – as an AUDIENCE MEMBER!

    Next, figure out how you will get across your points based on the value they have to the audience.

    LAST, fire up PowerPoint and put your plan into action. As far as how to use PP: use only the BLANK and TITLE ONLY layouts. This forces you to think about what you are putting on the slide and avoids the deadly ‘fill in the bullets’ mentality that comes oh-so-naturally to most when we open up a new slide.

  5. Janet says:

    After watching Lynda’s interview with Nancy Duarte and reading Slide:ology, I took it upon myself to try and change the way our corporation creates presentations. So far it’s been well received. It’s been the practice here to fill the slides from edge to edge and then print and distribute. I’m trying to get presentation developers to put all the facts in the notes and use the slide to visually reinforce the message. I have been given an internal web page to provide templates and teaching aids. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  6. Kevin says:

    One very important thing is never put anything on the screen that you don’t speak about. Only put information that you intend to explain. Don’t ever go below 24 point font. . .28 is even better. .and understand the differences between a serif and sans serif font .. between say Times New Roman vs. Arial Black. . .script fonts are a no no. . .be clear, clean and don’t jam too much info on one slide. . .and forget the fancy dancy transitions etc. . .fade through black is fine.

  7. Paul says:

    I’d like answers to these two questions:

    - Assuming a slide has 4 (bullet) points, is it better to have all points visible on slide entry or to reveal the points one by one?

    - If the latter, is it better to start talking about the point shortly before revealing it, on revealing it, or shortly after revealing it?

    PS. I have a strong aversion to any presentation with bouncing, flying, exploding, pulsating (etc.) text or transitions.

  8. Wow. These are all very impressive, well-written responses. I think should hire them all to do a “group project” of the next presentation title.

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