Five Crimes Against PowerPoint

This post was originally posted on October 18, 2011 at this location. I was a guest blogger last year and, as it turns out, the post was quite popular. This is being re-posted with the permission of ABR.

Stop PowerPoint Abuse! Five Crimes Against PowerPoint 

PowerPoint has been getting bad press for years. I’ve heard and read many complaints about terrible presenters reading directly off the slides. Or even worse, complaints about presenters with a 100 slide deck full of 12 point font “eye charts”. This misuse of the tool has given PowerPoint a bad reputation in many workplaces.

The reality is that PowerPoint can be a powerful tool in a presentation. It can elicit emotional responses, help with humor, illustrate key points, help the brain organize the material, encourage retention, and enhance the mood.

So if PowerPoint is so powerful, why the bad press? In my experience as a member of the audience, nine out of ten users seem to simply stick with the crowded bullet points.  So the question is, do you use this great tool well – or are you an abuser?

To help you determine your guilt, I’ve made a list of several of the more common crimes against the audience and PowerPoint below.

Crime #1 – Fonts 

Using too many fonts on the slide is distracting and it makes it difficult for the audience to process. Stick with only two fonts throughout your entire slide deck. This can be something simple like Ariel and Ariel Bold, or maybe you can use something with a color and a bit different for the title with something plain for the body.


Crime #2 – Colors

Using great colors can help with branding, it can help emphasize your message, it can evoke emotions, and…it can send your audience into fits or make them think they are blind. Having slides of many different colors, using bright colors, or using colors that don’t work well together can sabotage your presentation.

For example, as we age, our eyes cannot distinguish colors as well as we did in the past. For example, the two best color combinations for the aging adult eye are:

  • Blue background – yellow text OR
  • White background – black text

In addition, many people suffer from color blindness. This usually doesn’t mean that they see the world in black and white only – this means that they can’t distinguish certain colors from each other like red and green.


In addition, I’ve seen trainers try to delight or energize their audience with the use of splashy colors. A simple white background with vibrant photos for interest will do a much better job of keeping your audience awake.

Crime #3 – Busy Template

PowerPoint templates can provide a great unifying theme throughout your presentation. For this reason, many presenters insist on using them. In addition, many corporate marketing departments prefer to create branded, colorful templates for all presentations. In my experience, a simple one color (no gradient) background with simple fonts makes the best visual presentations.

– But you be the judge. The same content is presented below on two different template styles.


With the slide on the left, my eyes are drawn away from the content. The title is lost in the gradient. To me, the message is lost in the busy background.

The slide on the right has a simple background and the focus is on the content.

Another great reason to choose a simple template is photos. If you use a colorful background, you have to work harder to make your photos work on the image. See these two samples:


In the first sample, the background is lovely but it makes it hard to add photos. In the second sample, a plain white background was used and the photo looks integrated into the slide.

Crime #4 – Too Much Text On The Screen

Keep your slides simple. Less is more. Too much information on the screen is difficult to process. Use white space, a picture, and large font. If you have an excel table to share – put it in a handout!!  Not a single member of your audience will be able to read an excel table.

Also, don’t put more than 36 words on a screen. If you must use bullets, follow the 6 x 6 rule.

The best use of slides however is not as the content for the presentation but rather as emphasis for your points. Each slide should have only one main point. The best slides of all have no bullet points – only pictures. See the example below of moving content out of bullet point mode – which one is content you are supposed to read and which one will act as an emphasis to the speaker?


For an in-depth look on how to transform slides in this way, see my post – “Are Your Slides a Sleep-Aid?“.

Crime #5 – Reading the Slide

Do not read your slides. Let me repeat myself – do not read your slides. There is no quicker route to an audience that is completely disengaged.

While there are many more crimes against PowerPoint, paying attention to these five crimes will improve your PowerPoint presentations greatly and may help to improve the reputation of this powerful tool.

Leigh Anne Lankford is an instructional designer with 20 years’ experience in the field of HRD. She works as a Relationship Manager for TrainingPros in Atlanta, working closely with training and development departments of large organizations to identify, attract, and on-board contract employees for very specific and specialized training and development needs. You can reach Leigh Anne at  

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