Though we may not know anyone personally who died from a terrible PowerPoint, I’m sure it has happened.  As David JP Phillips stated in his Ted Talk, Death by Powerpoint, the deadly presentation isn’t exactly killing someONE, but someTHING: the ability for your audience to focus on the message. And if they aren’t focusing on our message, then why don’t we all just go to the movies instead of wasting 2 hours on an ineffective presentation?  Or perhaps a good Twilight Zone episode?

There are several contributions to a bad presentation, but the primary miscue is lack of focus.  Too many words, too many elements, too many places to focus.  So, what’s the answer?

Here are 6 ways to make sure your presentation isn’t poisonous:

1. One message per slide.  Limit your information to focus on the one take-away you are using at this moment in the presentation.

2. Respect the Working Memory.  There is a limit to how much a person can retain in their short term or working memory.  You can use breadcrumbs to lead your audience, but for this moment, if you provide written text on a slide and then ask a person to focus on what you are saying, very few people can do both.  Limit the written information on a slide.

3. Size.  Designers call is “typographic hierarchy,” but simply put: people see text that is more prominent on the page, so use it to your advantage.  Instead of the title always being the “big headline,” allow titles to be smaller and something else on the page become the main focus.  If text is all the same size it will all blend together.

4. Contrast. Use light and dark to help focus the attention on your main message.  White backgrounds are not the best way to show information on a screen in especially a dark room.  The screen is bright and steals the focus away from the main event: the speaker.  Eyes will be drawn to what is bright.

5. Color has limitless abilities to evoke emotion and set tone.  Use it sparingly and on purpose.  Especially when using signal colors such as red or orange, the viewer will be drawn to those colors and away from other parts of the screen.

6. Six, the number of objects you can “see” instead of count.  It takes a person many times longer to absorb or create patterns if there are too many objects to see at once.  The brain automatically tries to create categories and consolidate the ideas, and this is exhausting.  Most people will not absorb the information or worse, begin to tune out the speaker.  Keep your objects to 6 or less if you want to keep their attention.  If you have more, separate them onto multiple slides or categorize them into groups so that there are fewer than 6 groups.

While presentations aren’t always easy to simplify, taking the time to work with the human mind instead of against it will help you to get your message out there.  We’ve all been on the audience side of a bad presentation, the death of our attention, the growl of our stomach, the drift of our thoughts… as our silent cry longs to reach the mind of the presenter, “please, show mercy!” 
-Pamela Schwartz, Freelance PowerPoint Designer
Link: Ted Talk by David JP Phillips