Why Audiences Detest Presenters That Abuse Or Avoid PowerPoint [Revisted]

15/52 "haywire"Revised and updated from original post about presentations and images published on October 25, 2011.

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.

And SlideShare is the largest online community for sharing great presentations! When you create a presentation using great design and learning principles, ande you upload it to SlideShare, your presentation may just jump to their home page for thousands to see!

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. The speaker has misused PowerPoint to create a report, not a presentation. Typically we put too much info on slides for those who will not be there. This is backwards as the presentation is for the registering attendee not those who did not come. And the audience wants to hear a presentation with 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.

Five Tips From Comments And Research

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. Additional themes come from attendee evaluations VCC’s team members used in their conference planning.

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 slides in PDF format via email. Or distribute your notes in a separate word-based document.

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.

Tip: Secure speakers that are proven presenters and know how to use images. If you are using a first-time speaker, spend additional time coaching and preparing them.

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: Avoid PowerPoint templates and layouts. They are overused!

4. Audiences despise conference branded PowerPoint/Keynote templates.

Really? I mean really? Don’t you think that the majority of the attendees already know what conference they are attending and the host organization. Plus your conference template gets really old by the second presenter. And it’s the exact opposite of what are brains crave when it comes to design. Trying to use novel images when the darn conference template gets in the way (watermarks, a reinvention 0f the conference logo at the top or bottom or sides or all of these combined) kills creativity.

Tip: Remember why you are using a branded conference template! It’s usually for those who did not attend the conference. If you must use them, create a branded cover and closing slide template only. Or just put your brand and conference image in the walk-in and walk-out loops. Encourage presenters to think about effective design for the rest of the presentation using great images and limited text.

5. Use striking, unusual, novel images.

Research from neuroscientists Dr. John Medina, David Rock and many others illustrates that we are all visual learners. Our brains thrive on and operate with images. So much so that 80% of your brain’s processing power is devoted to images. When you sleep do you dream in words or images? Images. MRI scans show that when visually impaired people read braile, it’s their brain’s image processors that light up. Retention and recognition dramatically increases with images. PowerPoint-free sessions go against the ways our brains naturally process information.

Tip: Try to keep your text to 10 words or less with an emphasis on the image to convey the information. Another great tool to help you design effective presentations is Haiku Deck for the iPad. They working on a web based version so all you non-iPad presenters can access it as well.

Additional resources to create enticing and effective slides with images to recommend to your presenters:

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas On Presentation Design And Delivery and Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations both by Garr Reynolds. Check out his blog too.

Slideology: The Art And Science Of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte.

Building PowerPoint Template Step By Step With The Experts by Echo Swinford and Julie Terberg. (Learn how to create your own template that is consistent, cost-effective and resonates with how the brain learns.)

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

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  1. Jim says:

    Oh for criminy sakes out loud alive…!
    There is still someone out there extolling the Bronze Age comms tool of PPT? Yikes, what a real drag!

    No one, no one, in the lamentable history of sitting through gawd awful lectures, presentations, reports and other such excreta has ever liked, wanted or benefited from a wretched PPT presentation! They are ALWAYS lousy, horrible and preceded by equipment failure/operator error. Um…ALWAYS!

    If you wanna believe that all humans are visual learners, fine. Then paint a dang picture with your words, your gestures, your volume, your intonation, your smiles and grimaces, your pacing/strolling/wandering, with every God-given tool humans possess to actually engage in human communications. It’s really cool! Try it! and leave the projectors and screens and slides and ineptitude at the office, in the closet, in the storehouse’s outhouse! Please….be a human speaker, not some propeller-head slide card reader! Sheesh…hello?

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for sharing your opinion.

  2. Vickie says:

    With all due respect Jim, just because you have attended bad presentations and just because you are NOT a visual learner does not mean others in the room are your clones. I respect your personal preference. But as a presenter, it is vital that we reach everyone. That means we have visuals for the visual learners, exercises for the kinetic learners, and interesting stories and vocalizations for the auditory learners.

    What else CAN we do? Ask for a show of hands? “How many of you hate visuals? – OK, you, you and you, feel free to change places with the people sitting behind the pole.”

    Paradi’s research is very helpful and valid. I appreciate him for taking the time to research this. Yes, we all need to be more mindful of how we use anything – whether it’s Keynote, PowerPoint, Prezi or any other visual medium. But don’t shoot the medium because the Presenter isn’t using it properly.

  3. Kit Grant says:

    I am usually the closing speaker at a conference and often when I announce I have no PowerPoint I receive hearty applause. If you are a good enough speaker, you are the PowerPoint. I don’t discount it for some presentations but too often I see speakers who would be completely lost if their PowerPoint goes down. I come to speak, not to show slides. If you want testimonials to prove my point, I have about 36 years worth of them and I’m still working lots, thanks.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. Like you, I didn’t believe it either. It took me almost one year to unlearn the bad practices and information that I had about how “effective speeches” were along with a lot of other education myths. However, I finally embraced the evidence and have watched a major change in the presentations I now give. I am going to offer a different perspective. I hope you’ll at least entertain it.

      I have no doubt that you have 36 years of anecdotal information proving that people enjoyed your presentation. I happen to stake my beliefs on empirical evidence, not confirmation bias, as the scientists would call it. (That’s when we refuse to accept scientifically sound evidence because our experience, not based on the scientific method, tells us something different. I’ve use confirmation bias to explain away a lot of my misbeliefs!)

      For example, just read Dr. John Medina’s compilation of a hosts of researchers that vision trumps listening and images trump words: brainrules/net/vision. Our brains crave and thrive on images (not speeches). You dream in images…not words. Retention from listening to a “speech” is 10%. Add images to that speech and the retention jumps to 65%. That’s ROI that beats audience comments and smile sheets any day. I don’t know about you, but I want my audiences to remember, recall and apply my presentations…I want them to learn it. I’m not satisfied with them just hearing it.

  4. Glenn says:

    I attended Jeff’s presentation at the CWEA Leadership Workshop yesterday (11/4/2013). I was very impressed with the techniques Jeff employed. I came away from that workshop more educated than any other workshop I have attended. In fact, this morning I wrote an email to my supervisor about the learning I received. I was surprised at how easy my thoughts came to me as I expressed what I learned. I did not struggle with what I did for 6 hours. I recalled key points with ease. I am certain it was because I was not trained, I was educated.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading, commenting and participating. It is greatly appreciated. And here’s to your success as a presenter!

  5. […] Hurt‘s recent update of a classic post on presentations and images should be an essential resource for anyone who still […]

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