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2 Ways to Avoid Death by PowerPoint

Several years ago, I attended a conference presentation that was a complete disaster. The presenter clearly had an agenda for what they wanted to talk about, but it didn’t follow what was billed on the program.

When someone interrupted the presenter and ask a bit about the actual topic, the presenter ignored them and went right on with the plan on their slides. Others began to ask questions that were also ignored.

It’s the only time I can recall getting up and walking out of a presentation. It was the most extreme example I’ve seen of something many people have experienced:

Death by PowerPoint.

The software itself gets a bad rap for something that has nothing to do with the software. PowerPoint isn’t the problem. The problem is how we use it.

Your PowerPoint is Not Your Presentation

Many presenters confuse the distinction between PowerPoint enhancing the presentation and PowerPoint being the presentation.

I’ve seen PowerPoint slides used for handouts, for notes, for the archive of the presentation, for printed flyers, and invitations to birthday parties. Everything you can imagine – but not consistently for the main purpose PowerPoint is designed for:

Enhancing (not being) a live presentation.

Old Habits Die Hard

Whenever we discuss this in our High Impact Presentations courses, virtually every person present has a story of a time they’ve been the victim of a death by PowerPoint experience. Sometimes, they have multiple examples from that same week.

The most self-aware people admit that they’ve probably been the culprit a few times as well, spending more time reading slides than connecting with their audience.

Yet, many of us don’t know what we can practically do to get better. After all, change is hard if you’ve been reading slides to people for many years and mostly gotten away with it. That’s why we introduce two rules when we work with participants in our High Impact Presentations courses.

The 6×6 Rule

The 6×6 rule states no more than six lines of text on a PowerPoint slide and no more than six words per line.

It’s a simple rule to follow during slide design and it produces powerful results.

After all, if you don’t write more than six lines on any slide and don’t go over six words per line, it’s much harder to read to people from your slides. It forces you to expand upon what you are saying and not just read.

It also encourages you to keep your slides simple, so that you don’t overwhelm your audience with details. When you overwhelm on details, generally one of two things happen:

  1. The audience works really hard to try and read what’s on the slide – ignoring everything you say during that time.

  2. The audience mostly ignores the slide – making it essentially useless.

Keep your language simple by sticking to the 6×6 rule.

The 10-Second Rule

The related 10-second rules states that the audience should be able to fully understand the point of a slide or other visual in no more than 10 seconds.

Too many words on a slide work against this goal, as do very complicated

graphics, font sizes that are too small to read, and complex charts that require tons of explanation.

Many presenters believe that if they put more information into a slide, the presentation will somehow become more valuable or impressive.

The exact opposite is true.

The best presenters know that their mission is to keep the message of their presentation simple and clear. Of course you should go into more details if the audience asks for them, but keep the visuals straightforward enough so attention stays with you as the presenter.

Two More Resources

A fabulous book on making your visuals powerful is slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte. She will teach you the nuts and bolts of slide design that will get you communicating clearly.

With effective slides, the focus of the audience stays where it should be: on the presenter. Discover more in our High Impact Presentations course that can help you deliver a clear message that sticks.

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