The Ten Commandments of PowerPoint

Periodically (we last addressed this topic in my article PowerPoint Templates: Great Idea or Pain in the Mouse?), we pile up thoughts on the #1 companion – I sometimes call it the Teddy Bear – of presentations.  Our friend, PowerPoint.  It’s front and center again because of the phenomenon of Share Screen on the virtual meeting platforms.  It seems that you can’t have a meeting without a deck to share.  Since it takes up most of the real estate, it seems to take up most of the attention, and that attention is often not good.  

Probably the greatest problem with PowerPoint is that Microsoft has made the tool incredibly easy to use.  And thus, it’s easy to make bad slides.  It’s also easy to make good slides, but it’s not AS easy.  Plus, we tend to copy what we see. Since there are more examples of bad slides than good, we create a cycle of acceptance of bad visuals.

Most people are not trained in visual design (I’m not), so the use of the tool is more about creating and remembering what to say than it is creating an experience to help the listener understand and remember.  I.e. it’s used as a message design tool and not a visual aid for the audience tool.  That would be acceptable… if you never showed your slides to your audience.  But most people not only show their slides to their audience, they print them out and pass them out as well.  We’ve crossed the realm of visual aid to handout. 

I tend to be a little harsh on PowerPoint design and usage.  It’s hard to watch a very capable tool used so poorly.  While it feels like some of the principles should be obvious, they clearly are not.  So in an effort to make the world a better place, I offer the distinctly simple (and hard to follow) Ten Commandments of PowerPoint:


The Ten Commandments of PowerPoint

  1. Readeth not the slides, that ye may be invited back to speak
  2. Thou shalt not make slides before knowing what thou intendeth to say
  3. Thou shalt not use animation, unless motion/movement is thy point 
  4. Thou shalt put only one idea on a slide
  5. Thou shalt not use copyrighted material in thy slides
  6. Thou shalt make thy text large and easy to read 
  7. Thou shalt not stand in the beam of light projecting thy slides
  8. Thou shalt show thy slides only in presentation mode
  9. Thou shalt not use low resolution photos
  10. Thou shalt always have a backup copy ready on another device


And here’s a bonus 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not pass out paper copies of thy slides, unless the audience speaketh not thy language.”

Like the real Ten Commandments, it’s unlikely that you’ll keep them all, all the time. So ask for grace.  Find a friend who can help. Two heads are better than one.  Better yet, hire a designer (I do).  And live by the credo: when in doubt, leave it out.

Communication matters. What are you saying?

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This article was published in the February edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today to receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

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