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Avoid These 5 Common PowerPoint Mistakes

By Cheryl Toth, MBA  bio

Who among us has not suffered (or slept) through a deadly PowerPoint presentation in a meeting or at a conference? We all know a bad set of slides when we see them. Yet many of us make the same mistakes in our own presentations that we hate to sit through in someone else’s.

PowerPoint will continue to be a ubiquitous tool for business presentations. Do your best to avoid these five common mistakes when you use it. Your audience will thank you.

Mistake #1: Putting too much information on a slide.

A classic faux pas. So common. And so avoidable. A slide should distill information into a few key points that cue your audience visually, as you embellish the key points verbally. An effective slide is clean and visually appealing. If you blather too many words on it, not only will the slide look ugly, the audience won’t need you. They can simply read the slide. Which most of them will do, tuning you out. Review the information you plan to present and identify the kernels that convey your concepts. Break those into two to three key points per slide. When presenting the slides, support the points with examples and stories. If you have wordy material that your audience truly needs, distribute a handout. Word or PDF are more appropriate document types for delivering dense information.

Mistake #2: Using cheesy stock images and Clip Art.

It’s astonishing how many presentations given by physicians, managers, and otherwise intelligent business professionals make this mistake. In fact, last week I attended a program hosted by an international law firm and three of the five attorney presenters used Clip Art in their slides. Mon dieu. In case you are not old enough to have worked in the 1990s, Clip Art was a series of cartoonish “graphic designs” that were included free with purchase of Microsoft Office. Back then, they were about the only thing available for non-graphic designers to dress their presentations. But using Clip Art today makes a presentation look silly and dated and won’t impress anyone. How about taking and using your own photos, using a mobile device or tablet? It’s an easy, royalty-free solution that can fuel your creativity. Or, check out one of the many free image sites that offer stunning photography. My favorite is Unsplash. Free Images is another option. You can also set up an account and pay small royalties to sites such as Thinkstock. (Although many of the business and healthcare images look pretty synthetic.)

Mistake #3: Teeny weeny fonts.

This curse is the result of committing Mistake #1. Because so much information is squished onto one slide, the font size is too small for a human to read. When you put up slides like this in a meeting, the people near the screen may actually read them, pulling their attention away from what you are saying. Anyone further back won’t be able to see anything. They will listen and nod or check their mobile device for email while they wonder to themselves why you are using a slide that no one can read. They will be even more frustrated if you say (as I’ve heard many do), “Sorry, you probably can’t read this slide but…” Refer to the solution options in #1 to fix this. Generally speaking, I aim for a font size of 20 point or larger, which keeps the font readable for the whole room and forces the use of fewer words per slide.

Mistake #4: Getting trapped in PowerPoint’s automated bullet lists.

You have attended these presentations. They are particularly popular at scientific meetings. Every slide contains a neatly organized bullet list. If you have OCD, the consistency may have a calming effect. But for most people, it has a tuning out effect. Everything looks the same. It’s wordy and boring and there are no images to stimulate ideas or discussion based on the concepts you’ve delivered. I’m not saying never use PowerPoint’s automated bullet lists. But make them a condiment, not the main dish. Keep the number of bullets to three or four per slide, and intersperse the bullet list slides with slides that contain primarily images, or short text. Mixing things up will make your slide deck more interesting.

Mistake #5: Using text instead of graphs to communicate data.

From payor mix to A/R metrics, practice managers regularly present data to physicians. Do not use words to communicate data. A picture paints 1,000 words and communicates the message more effectively. Pie charts, line or bar graphs, and tables will make your presentation much more clear. For example, delivering payor mix as two pie charts (one based on charges, the other on collections) is better than listing each payor and the percentage of the mix. I typically create the graphs in Excel, then copy and paste them into PowerPoint. If you aren’t an Excel whiz, appoint someone on your team as the graph maker.


Bio: Cheryl Toth, MBA is a Tucson-based business writer and healthcare professional who blends exceptional communication skills with an ability to educate and inspire. She brings 20 years of practice consulting, technology management, and presentation experience to her projects. Cheryl is a co-host of Sound Practice, a Greenbranch Publishing podcast for physicians and practice leaders, launching in the fall of 2018.


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