Common PowerPoint mistakes—and how to fix them

Are the eyes in your audience busily trying to read all those words you’ve jammed into your slides or, worse yet, glazing over? Here’s help in overcoming those blunders.

It’s easy to develop bad habits—drinking too much coffee or always running late—but it can be much harder to break them.

In the corporate world, there is one bad habit (or collection of bad habits) we’d like to see everyone kick: poor use of PowerPoint. Even the most skilled presenters can do better.

Replacing bad PowerPoint habits with more effective techniques helps you tell a more engaging story, connect with your listeners and even change the conversation.

You might feel stuck in a rut with your PowerPoint slides. If so, imagine how your audience is feeling. Do you notice people’s eyes glazing over? Can you blame them?

Ask yourself: What can you do to liven things up, bring a fresh perspective to your presentation visuals and help your listeners to “get it”?

Here are three common PowerPoint mistakes that you can easily replace with more savvy tactics:

1. Following equations of ‘X slides per minute’

Have you been asked to limit your presentation to a certain number of slides? Some mistakenly believe that the length of a presentation should be measured by the number of slides you show. That misconception leads people to look for a magic number of slides per minute for an ideal presentation. There is no such thing.

New habit: Focus on your audience and your message, rather than on the number of slides. Who are your listeners, and what do they care about? Use slides if they help your audience understand or remember what you are saying. You might consider using props or a video to supplement or replace a slide deck.

In her book “The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations,” Nancy Duarte advises: “Don’t worry about slide count. Just make your slides count.”

To learn more about avoiding dependency on slides, read “Who Said PowerPoint Rules?”

2. Putting too much text on a slide

We’ve all seen slides so laden with text that there’s no way the audience can even see the words, much less take in the message. In his book ” Presentation Zen,” Garr Reynolds aptly calls text-heavy slides “slideuments.” If your content can be distributed and clearly understood without a presenter, you’ve created a document, not a presentation.

It’s easy to fall into this trap when you feel compelled to share everything you know with your audience. This “curse of knowledge” leads to information overload that only makes your listeners shut down.

New habit: To help “manage your real estate” and make sure your text is visible to everyone in the room, use a minimum of 30-point type on your slides. That limits the amount of text and forces you to pare it down to the key points you want to convey or, better yet, to one idea per slide.

3. Leaving out images

Making your slides text-centric takes the attention off you as a speaker. People are compelled to read any text that is put in front of them.

Wendy Gates Corbett, president of Refresher Training and an expert in designing vivid presentations and corporate training materials, describes the effect this way: “People who can read can’t not read.” While your audience is reading your slides, they are not listening to what you’re saying.

New habit: Try using relevant images that convey the essence of your message with only a few key words on each slide (what I call a “glance and grab” strategy).

Duarte suggests asking yourself, “What would I like people to remember?” and giving that point visual emphasis.

On the left is a typical text slide with bulleted information. The right-hand picture can convey your message to the audience in an instant, without distracting them with words to read while they are trying to listen.

See more PowerPoint examples by Wendy Gates Corbett from her website.

To learn more, read “Using ‘Glance & Grab’ to Perk Up Your PowerPoint.”

You’ll be surprised at the big impact these simple changes can make in your presentations. Time and again I see my clients experience an “ah-ha!” moment when they realize how effectively they can engage listeners by using these techniques.

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. Learn more at and A version of this article originally appeared on SmartBlog on Leadership.

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