Given that 65% of the population are visual learners, using slides or other visual support during a presentation falls somewhere between being pretty useful and critically important. For the 65%, visual reinforcement enhances their ability to digest, process, and ultimately retain material.

Then why is it, whenever I poll a group after speaking to them without using slides – “How many of you wish I had used PowerPoint today?” – zero hands go up. Always zero. No one misses PowerPoint.

Admittedly, I often use a white board and colorful markers to cement my key points, so I’m not eschewing visuals. And when the group I’m speaking to is large, I use PowerPoint so the slides can be projected onto a screen for everyone to see.

Generally speaking, though, people don’t like PowerPoint because it’s used poorly in many, if not most, cases. At the risk of nagging or sounding negative, here’s a top 5 list of PowerPoint “don’ts”:

1. Don’t use your slides as your presentation outline or script; they’re not for you, they’re for your audience!

2. Don’t use too many words on your slides; if your audience has a lot to read, they won’t be able to listen to you at the same time.  

3. Don’t build your slides first; build your presentation outline first, complete with main points and supporting information, and then decide what kind of slides would support and reinforce them.

4. Don’t think you’re off the hook and don’t need to know/rehearse your presentation; if your your technology fails you in the room, you still have to deliver.

5. Don’t try to put everything you know in your slide deck; Microsoft named it PowerPoint, not EveryPoint.

The fact that the majority of people are visual learners underscores the importance of creating slides that are effective. At a minimum, use clean, clear graphics; memorable, relevant images; key words on text slides; and headings that tell audiences what they’re looking at and why. If you want to dig in more, there are lots of great resources available – not the least of which are Nancy Duarte’s books – to help you capture the 65% and along with them, the 35%.  

Beth Levine