Why Audiences Detest Presenters That Abuse PowerPoint

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Presentations are the business currency of today. PowerPoint is often the legal tender of those presentations. We trade and share PowerPoint presentations like baseball cards, stamps and money.

Viewing a presentation without PowerPoint (Keynote or Prezi) is like listening to a TV show over the radio. We expect and want the visual to help keep us focused.

PowerPoint is nearly unavoidable. However, misuse of PowerPoint is avoidable!

Audiences Fed Up!

Author and consultant Dave Paradi has researched what audiences dislike about PowerPoint presentations since 2003. Results from his recent September 2011 survey highlight what many conference attendees already know.

“Audiences are fed up with presenters who fill their slides with too much content and are then compelled to read it all to those seated in the room.

…Too many presentations suffer from information overload.” ~ Dave Paradi

Top Five Reasons We Hate PowerPoint Abuse

Nearly 43% of those surveyed said that more than half of the presentations they see suffer from one or more of the following top five PowerPoint misuses.

1. Speaker reads slides that contain too much content – 73.8%

The audience feels that the presenter is reading a detailed report to them. Instead, the audience wants to hear key insights or conclusions.

2. Slides contain full sentences instead of phrases – 51.6%

Attendees cannot read and listen at the same time. Putting too much information on a slide distracts the attendee.

3. Text on slide too small to read – 48.1%

Presenters often decrease font size to include more data on slides. Instead the presenter should summarize the critical points. Presenters should use at least 40 font size.

4. Color choices on slide make it difficult to read – 34%

Too many presenters put lots of white or bright text on dark backgrounds. This is difficult to read. Use a color wheel or the PowerPoint font color suggestions to choose the right colors that match.

5. Overly complex diagrams or charts – 26%

Use the squint test. If you can’t see the results when you squint your eyes, there is no way the audience will be able to see it either. Instead, put diagrams and charts in handouts. Put the results on the slide.

Three Themes From Comments

Paradi received more than ten pages of comments from the open ended question, “What else annoys you about poor presentations?” Three themes emerged from those comments.

1. Presenters attempt to cram too much information into their presentations.

Audiences feel like presenters are reading reports to them. Presenters feel they need to include everything because they share these presentations with people who did not attend. So they write their script on the slides. Tip: include script on the PPT notes section and distribute with the slides via email.

2. Speakers not prepared to present.

Frequently, the presenter did not prepare the slides or rehearse so they were unaware of what each slide said. Audiences loose respect for presenters that are not prepared. Audiences also do not like presenters that do not have good delivery skills or don’t know how to use basic AV equipment.

3. Audiences do not like poorly designed slides.

Audiences have little respect for presenters that lack design skills or don’t use resources to help them create better looking slides. Tip: Don’t use the PowerPoint templates and layouts. They are overused!

What PowerPoint abuses do you dislike during presentations? What else annoys you about poor presentations?

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  1. “I know many of you in the back of the room can’t see this and I apologize but…”

    The problem here is multi-faceted. First, this entire discussion presumes the speaker is expected to present actionable information. Often times they’re not (ie. motivational speeches) so I want to be clear. Also, this discussion seems to focus on non-professional (unpaid) speakers. Right? I’m unclear on the survey’s approach.

    1) Audiences EXPECT bad presenters because that’s what they’re given in most circumstances (primarily association and for-profit conference events). They hope for the best (clear, purpose-driven presentations that have a beginning, a middle and an end) and plan for the worst (people reading words at them).

    2) Until audiences start *demanding* what most professional speakers deliver (clear, purpose-driven presentations that use occasional images to cement an idea) nothing will change. And I don’t see change on the horizon given the economic climate.

    3) Inherently, professional speakers deliver clarity. Sadly, most deliver it on *known information* (offering no new insights). Non-paid/non-pro speakers naturally tend to over-focus on information delivery and are light on insights that provide greater clarity.

    As a professional speaker I am constantly, politely, telling my clients “no, you don’t want my deck… you really don’t because it is devoid of meaning as a stand-alone.” I literally use those words. It’s nearly always followed by a loud silence.

    Whether it’s the pre-show review (“is this clown going to embarrass us?”) or post-event deliverable (for those who didn’t attend) professional speakers are being forced to — that’s right — pile words onto our images.

    Humble Conclusion:
    Planners need to either hire professional speakers and increase their batting averages (survey scores) or raise the bar higher than “non-commercial sales pitches” for non-paid/non-pro speakers.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      ‘@Jeff Molander
      Thanks for reading and responding what a great comment.

      Yes, I hate it when a presenter says, “I know many of you in the back of the room can’t see this and I apologize but…” That one always rubs me the wrong way. The “but” in that sentence discounts me as a viewer. I really like your thoughts on clarity too!

      Your challenges with the survey are warranted. Unfortunately, it’s the perception=reality challenge. Most audiences don’t segment presentations into pros vs. industry vs. volunteer. One of my frustrations from hiring so many professional speakers is that frequently their visuals were just as bad as my industry speakers. The true gems were the speakers (professional and industry) that understood how important their visuals were to their audience.

      I’ve not seen you present…yet…but I suspect that you are a presenter that gets the visuals correctly! Thanks again.

  2. Jeff De Cagna (@pinnovation) is a legend at presenting and using slides. His slides are most often white text on black background (and a .pdf shown using a presentation App) and large font so no one misses his point. He rarely looks at the slides because he is a polished presenter who knows what the slide highlights. Everyone can see it, and he uses the slide to emphasise the point he is making. He knows the slide content is noteworthy so ensures the amount of words is few enough for people to write it down before he finishes speaking on the point.

  3. […] Why Audiences Detest Presenters That Abuse PowerPoint Presentations are the business currency of today. PowerPoint is often the legal tender of those presentations. We trade and share PowerPoint presentations like baseball cards, stamps and money. […]

  4. Rosemary Connors says:

    “Viewing a presentation without PowerPoint (Keynote or Prezi) is like listening to a TV show over the radio. We expect and want the visual to help keep us focused.”

    I totally understand what you mean in this day and age, and yet something in it sticks in my crawl. What happened to a speaker/speakers who are able to tell a compelling story and keep attention focused without things like big screen pictures of a thousand brightly colored gumballs with the word FOCUS written over it? I know you are not dismissing this kind of speaker, but it is making me reflect on the bells and whistles that can be a mask for compelling content. I guess your point is you need both, and to do both well, but this is when I feel old school: sometimes I just want sometime to talk to/with me.

  5. Rosemary Connors says:

    The cri de coeur of my last sentence perhaps lessened by the typo 🙂 Sorry. It should read –

    Sometimes I just want someone to talk to/with me.

  6. Rosemary…
    In my estimation what happened is they became motivational speakers. This is precisely my point. 90% of motivational speakers (for lack of a better term) are not expected, nor do they provide, truly actionable insights that are based on anything other than their personal experiences. They do not present new knowledge; rather, they present inspiration based on their own experiences.

    “Business” speakers (professional/paid and non-pro/unpaid) are inherently prone to deliver information (sometimes known, sometimes new/unknown/valuable) through “unpolished” means… in ways that do not add clarity to their message.

    I, myself, am a pro/paid speaker who attempts to balance both and sometimes it confuses the client because they believe speakers to fall into distinct buckets: pure motivational or pure informational. And it seems that audiences have similar views and assign this to their expectation– they expect to endure lack of clarity in “business” presentations.

    **Hence, the terrific reliance on “the deck” as a take-away** (because the audience is rarely expected to gain insights during the speech itself!)

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      ‘@Rosemary and Jeff

      I look at the fundamental purpose of most presentations: to persuade. Often it’s to change attitudes and behaviors…whether it’s an informational or motivational presentation.

      50% of your brain’s processing power is devoted to visual processing. Your brain is biased towards to visuals. Vision trumps all other senses. Not adding visuals is working against the brain’s natural systems and makes it harder for the listener to retain information.

      Trying to hold someone’s attention for 10, 20. 30 or even 60 minutes with a lecture is very, very difficult. Research shows attention is lost within about three to five minutes of the lecture. The human attention span is 10 minutes max. The scientific data is clear that lectures do not promote thinking, learning or retention. People only remember 10% of what they hear orally and most of that is quickly forgotten. Add visuals to the lecture/didadatic/motivational message and the retention increases to 60%. If the goal is retention and learning, visuals are a must or the audience quickly forgets.

      We grew up with lectures in high-school and colleges because it was an efficient way to transfer information. Information transfer does not equal education or learning. It is nothing more than reading a report. Our traditional education systems were built on the industrial revolution model or preparing people to enter factories. Be quiet, sit down, listen, do as you are told. That does not work for a knowledge economy. You may feel you learned from lectures but if you had to study, you did not learn from the lecture.

      I agree that we often prefer someone to talk with me. I don’t want to be talked at…I prefer talking with and that usually does not occur from the sage on the stage but the guide on the side.

      PS…Thanks to both of you for reading and continuing the discussion!

  7. Jeff, thanks for those thoughts. It reminds people like me to build in those all-important momentary breaks that provide a moment of “rest”. Almost like when we sleep each night– an opportunity for the brain to etch the insight gleaned onto our hard drives 🙂

    Also, your comments are completely in line with what groups like SPIN are doing http://spincon.spinplanners.com/speakers.html with innovations in formatting (shortening presentations to the 15 minute range)

  8. Rosemary Connors says:

    Thanks to the Jeffs – Molander, for the perspective and Hurt, for plenty of food for thought.

  9. […] Why Audiences Detest Presenters That Abuse PowerPoint Presentations are the business currency of today. PowerPoint is often the legal tender of those presentations. We trade and share PowerPoint presentations like baseball cards, stamps and money. Source: velvetchainsaw.com […]

  10. Glad to see this post. Personal pet peeve of mine is with PowerPoint, so few people use it well. A picture tells a thousand words and often the best PowerPoint are full of images that reinforce points.
    Less content… More Visual

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      I think abuse of PPT is a pet peeve of many people! Hooray for images! Thanks for reading and continuing the discussion.

  11. Lisa Rice says:

    Along with excellent visual content presenters might consider something else. Not everyone has a pleasant speaking voice. Hiring a professional voice over talent to record concise slide information moves presentations to the next level. Recent studies show people generally prefer a female voice over a male. http://t.co/BfOirx94

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      I so agree with you. I know a couple of great presenters that have terrible voices. Their audiences cringe when they start to speak and their voices are so irritating that people have a difficult time listening to them. Hiring a voice coach is critical for some speakers.

      Thanks for reading and adding your thoughts too.

  12. garrett says:

    I think it is important to just edit and re-read your presentation
    before uploading it. It’s just like any paper you write in highschool or college.
    Its important to make a draft. Then, improve it, until
    it is short and to the point.

    People don’t like wasting their time listening to fluff that isnt helpful 😉

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