Software

Share your best and worst PowerPoint experiences

Share your best or worst experience as a PowerPoint presenter or a member of the audience.

There's a ton of advice to be had on PowerPoint, but nothing makes a point quite as well as real life. Even with the best advice, it's hard to know what's going to work…or isn't, until you're in the middle of the presentation. So today, I'd like to depart from my usual routine. I want to hear from you. Tell us your best and/or worst PowerPoint story. It doesn't matter if you were the creator, presenter, or a member of the audience—I'm sure we'll all learn quite a bit about what we'd like to try, or avoid, from these stories!

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

28 comments
feral
feral

I recently sat through our annual "what we are doing" brief. They took a couple of thousand people off the job and bussed them to a convention centre for 4.5 hrs of the same slides as last year, the year before and the year before that. Slides that were illegible due to over use of bullets, 20 bullets was the record. Charts! now they tell a story, here I was up the back in the bad boys row, and this lovely chart with a greyed out area and above this pink and then orange with a font so tiny I could not read any of the data. I wanted to gouge my eyes out with hot nails, an act that would have been both satisfying and far more entertaining for the masses who had become zombified. Another criminal was the useless woman who had just been rehired as the "Reform Program" manager, she stood up and read her slides to the audience, each and every bullet point on each and every slide. Did I say she was rehired, maybe she should be resacked if there is such a word. I was feeling pretty violated by this point. The piece de resistance, the CEO who puts a smiley face on all his slides that showed which business units had done well and frowny faces for the poor performers. The lunatics are on the grass.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

A divisional artillery staff officer had a presentation that included maps and graphics of the battle field. As each new slide appeared with the next phase of the operation, we were 'treated' to several minutes of airplanes flying over the top, howitzers rolling in from the sides and firing, shells traversing the slide and exploding, enemy vehicles retreating, all obscuring the maps and graphics that to a soldier convey the real information of a battle plan. The whole thing could have been done with a half-dozen clear acetate overlays (a 3' roll is standard issue in HQ elements) over one of the paper maps that were going to be used in the operation anyway (on a 4'x8' plywood backing, it would have been larger than the presentation screen), and could have been created in less time by someone without computer skills (or a computer) and provided training for someone who's job it is to make copies of such overlays in the first place. The most dangerous thing in the Army is a 2nd Lieutenant with a map and a compass. The second most dangerous thing is a staff officer with PowerPoint and a projector.

ll360j
ll360j

I am cheating a bit here because this was not a problem wih PowerPoint software but while presenting to a rather large audience of emergency responders...about emergency response...I looked over my shoulder to see a blank screen. Assuming a PowerPoint glitch I walked across the room with the growing perception that I smelled a little bit of smoke. Two and two suddenly coalesced into four when I made it to my laptop to see a healthy amount of smoke pumping out of it's cooling fan. After pulling the plug and dumping the battery (even though the damage was done and quite permanent) I had the opportunity to wander through a blank presentation...since in a stellar act of competence...my thumb drive was sitting on my desk...several miles away.

RU7
RU7

Good -Single line bullets -Max 5 per slide for back row legibility Bad -Multiple levels of bulleted paragraphs -Tables with more than 5 rows or columns -blank space on the edges -reading slide One bad but common practice is using a PP document for documentation. I have seen slides with so much text that you had do get close to your desktop monitor to read it. Sometimes the presenter just says "This slide explains that. You can read it at your leasure."

indigo18
indigo18

I was one of dozens of companies linked across the United States, that owned a Genigraphics computer that produced PowerPoint slides. The company sold the software to Microsoft without compensation and our humongous outstanding investment put us out of business. Who wants to buy excellent design when it's good enough to come from company owned Microsoft Office software. People who were fussy about quality went for, "who needs good products if it can be made with strings and glue for zip money by an amatuer." That's why there are so many baaad Power Point presentations that put people to sleep.

ProfT
ProfT

Sponsoring a conference and the keynote speaker came in with a power point of one slide that had builds that were simple. The twenty minute presentation was well received.

Justin James
Justin James

A few months ago, I was giving a presentation, and using a laptop which I had recently wiped and installed a new OS on. Unfortunately, I never tested how it worked with external displays after the reinstall. I got to my venue right on time, only to discover that it wouldn't let me use the projecter. Something I've always hated in presentations is seeing the presenter spend more than a minute or two fussing with the setup, it kills the mood for the whole thing, even if they eventually figure it out. Instead of trying to get it working, I just did the presentation without PowerPoint. I use it more as a set of reminders what I wanted to talk about more than anything else anyways. J.Ja

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The slide shows it, he reads it back. And usually in a monotone that not even Ben Stein would touch.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

come from students with no eye for color or design who go flat out bonkers with all the tweaks, bells and whistles. Ouch.

four49
four49

The worst kind of PowerPoint torture is someone who schedules a long pointless meeting just to hear themselves talk and uses the PowerPoint slides as a teleprompter - merely reading straight from the slides to the audience. Most adults are capable of reading by themselves and do not need to be treated like they are in first grade. If anyone reading this comment finds themselves identifying with it, please take some pity on your co-workers and STOP doing this!

ProfT
ProfT

I had to develop slides for Nuclear Surety and it was always a battle with the bosses because they wanted more and I wanted less. I gave a short briefing with minimal slides and the general after the briefing looked around and stated that every briefing would be developed IAW my outline. Good feeling... Especially after the captain threatened me with a courts martial because I would not build the briefing like he thought it should be.

IMDB
IMDB

Death by PowerPoint is an apt description.

ProfT
ProfT

Technology - hard to trust. Always a need to pre-flight equipment and have a back up plan. Planning - How much time do you have to present and expect the worse, e.g., cutting your time back because the previous speaker. Presentation media should support your presentation and not run it. I was presenting at the university and realized that the speakers before me spent a lot of time on their slides and it showed (poorly). So it came down to the discussion of whether I would shorten my presentation or wait until after lunch. Opted for the shortened presentation. Being a bit of a renegade I only had 9 slides and I hoped for 7 but could not make it happen. I was able to present in 17 minutes and have 13 minutes for discussion. I have a number of peers come to me and have me explain how to make their presentations simpler. Good feeling.

ProfT
ProfT

I worked for a dean that expected a slide for every thirty seconds of presentation. And what I noticed when I would go to university meetings every presenter had the same idea. Death came slowly. And what the opinion was that you had to have a new slide every 30 seconds so there were slides of pictures of outhouses, flowers, etc. Geez...

ssharkins
ssharkins

Someone else made a similar point -- knowing your subject. Similar to being a database developer, no skill trumps knowing your data! ;)

Nebo
Nebo

I sat through a 2 hour presentation and EVERY slide had wriggly, jumping, bouncing, exploding things that were extremely distracting (and useless). Plus there were about 20 different fonts. At the end I had a headache. The presenter was a professional ..

JJMach
JJMach

Speaking of "ouch".... Worst I saw was from a very knowledgeable professor. While a master of his subject, he presented it in black micro-type on a mottled green, pink, ???, etc. cacophony of little colored blotches. It was so eye-wateringly bad it actually began to give me a headache, because I was trying very hard to read the words. The subject was very interesting, but the speaker was nearly unintelligible (soft, deep voice with a thick Bulgarian accent that sounded like he was *blub*blub*blub* drowning at the bottom of a deep well). I turned to a friend sitting next to me, "Can you read that?" "Nope. It hurts my eyes."

almostfm
almostfm

I used to work with a guy who went nuts with fonts--a ten slide presentation sometimes ended up with 20 or more different fonts It stuck with me to the point that when I taught PP classes, I told my classes to stay away from the "Ransom note effect"

accdak
accdak

Several presentations stand out: One was a presentation my department created for senior management. Against our respectful, but forcefully presented advice, they asked that all the bullets on all the slides come flying in from the lower left. After that presentation (or 34 bulleted slides later) they almost always take our advice. The other was a great presentation I created for one of the senior executives to be delivered as a keynote address. (The greatness was primarily due to the execs choice of material and organization.) Because of the generally grim nature of the presentation the exec wanted three video clips included in the presentation to temper the mood. Done. Everything worked flawlessly on every PC we tried EXCEPT his work notebook - the one he expected to take with him. We went nuts trying to find a fix. We never found a fix. We couldn't get a response from the conference organizers as to their computer arrangements. In the end, the exec went to the conference with his work notebook and a crappy old laptop (one key missing, two keys not working) on which he would make his presentation. From his description, the presentation went pretty well except their sound system sucked and he ran into a snowstorm on the way back.

doaks
doaks

Slides should be used for VISUAL support of the presenter's content. Bulleted talking points are okay, but not for the whole presentation. The best PPT presentation I ever saw had beautiful graphics, a handful of well-placed effects, 2 bulleted slides of talking points, a couple of elegantly simple diagrams, and a charismatic speaker who used the slides to augment rock-solid material. It was inspiring, educational and the visual aspect enhanced rather than detracted from the presentation. That is the standard I aspire to.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

I've had co-workers put tables with 70-100 cells up on a single slide, then look at it, say "you probably can't read this..." and then continue along. WHY INCLUDE IT THEN? I've seriously wanted to do impromptu critique sessions in front of our whole division before just to try to make people realize why they're doing it wrong.

codepoke
codepoke

A PowerPoint show merely shows the social skill of its creator. A highly technical person tends to use the show creation process as a notepad with which to think through the concept he's presenting. If he connects well with people, he'll either make a technical show with a human presentation or a human show with a technical presentation. The whole package must present something presumably unknown to the audience, but either the show or the speaker should provide some social relief. Coming down hard on PowerPoint presenters for being themselves is counterproductive. Instead, I suggest pair programming. Get that tech wizard someone social to work with and maybe the hating can end.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I was National Guard, but rumor had it active duty staff officers were evaluated based on the number and complexity of the slides they generated annually :D The thumbnail rule for field briefings is your audience should be able to fit your content on a single page of a standard issue green 'Memorandum' notepad.

jmbrasfield
jmbrasfield

It is my understanding that PowerPoint is to augment your verbal presentation, not the other way around. I have been in business of nearly 30 years, have seen many a PowerPoint "dog and pony show" in the last 10 years, and have yet to experience a really good one. The examples given, way to much use of the bells and whistles to mask the presenters lack of real knowledge or the flat out stupid that just read the slides (but please don't ask them any questions). This has been the norm in my experience. The really sad part of all this, the B.S. seems to work on the over whelming majority of my colleagues. All show and no go, that is what PowerPoint has become. An excellent TOOL turned into a mediocre crutch by people to lazy to learn and understand the subject at hand. Sad, sad, sad. The best presentations I've seen had NO POWERPOINT AT ALL, but the presenter knew the subject material forwards and backwards and could answer every question put to them. Oh for the good old days when people knew what they were talking about. I guess I'm just getting to old for the B.S. I walk out of more PP presentations than I stay for. Rude, yes, but no more so than them wasting my time.

MJSteklac
MJSteklac

I agree, don't put up something that can't be read. Instead, pass it out as a handout that can be referred to in your presentation. I appeared to give a presentation and found that the only screen available to me was an HDTV screen which couldn't be read with the font size I used.

ssharkins
ssharkins

You've made a great point -- social skills. I'm a writer because... because... I'm shy... Okay... I'm not shy. But, make me stand up in front of a group and talk and I might throw up. Seriously. So, even the best presentation is at the mercy of the presenter's skills to actually present the material.

MJSteklac
MJSteklac

A good indicator of whether your PowerPoint is there to augment your presentation vs. it is your presentation, is to ask yourself: Can I give this presentation without the PowerPoint? Technical mishaps do happen, e.g a failure of the projector, computer and projector won't link, etc. If the PowerPoint presentation can't be brought up, you should be able to give your presentation anyway. Anyone who wants help improving their presentations, including the use of PowerPoint, should check out their local Toastmasters club.

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