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4 Faults You Can Easily Avoid in Your Slide Presentations

I recently attended a dinner meeting whose featured speaker told about her life in a foreign country. Her story inspired everyone, but her slides frustrated and confused us. You can easily avoid her presentation faults, pleasing your audience, if you recognize the problems and make a few small changes.

Fault 1. Including too much content on a slide. Many of our speaker’s slides looked like this:

When your slide contains too much content (like the gibberish above), your audience will focus on reading rather than paying attention to what you are saying. They will strain to figure out when your spoken words relate to the words on the slide. If you read the slide content to them, you will stare at the screen rather than engage with your audience. And you may even turn your back on the audience while you are reading.


With the amount of content below (accompanied by a relevant, optional graphic), the audience can scan the slide easily. You can mention the three points in one sentence and then elaborate on them using your notes.

Fault 2: Showing a slide without talking about it. When you advance to a new slide but do not immediately talk about it, the audience jumps from what you are saying to what’s on the slide. Then they try to figure out how the slide complements your comments.

Advance to the next slide only when that slide illustrates your story or supports your point. If neither the current slide nor the next slide supports your point, you have three choices:

  1. Move to a black screen (by pressing the B key in PowerPoint).
  2. Move to a white screen (by pressing the W key in PowerPoint).
  3. Use a recurring placeholder.

The placeholder slide below reminds the audience that the current story takes place in Belarus. If the story moves to another location, another slide can feature that city or country.

This placeholder slide simply restates the topic of the presentation. It doesn’t distract the audience.

Black screens can make a dark room seem darker. White screens can seem too bright. A placeholder slide can help maintain the right ambiance without distracting the audience.


Fault 3: Expecting the audience to “find Waldo”–or to do the visual editing you didn’t do for them. Hints of this mistake are speaker comments like “It’s here in the far upper right corner” or “You can’t quite read this, but I’ll tell you what it says.”

Below is a real Where’s Waldo graphic that shows what not to do (even if you tell the audience where to look):

This edited slide version helps the audience find Waldo quickly:

Avoid providing the forest when the audience should focus on a single tree or a grove. Crop photos to focus on the main subject. In a budget presentation, pull out and share the key figures rather than showing them among many other numbers.


Fault 4: Providing unfamiliar information through spoken words only. When you speak a word or phrase your audience does not instantly recognize, people stop to puzzle it out and you lose them. But if you show the word too, they stay with you and your presentation.

Because the photo slide below includes the unfamiliar name of the site, it should keep audience members involved.

When planning your presentation or speech, think about words that may be unfamiliar to your audience, such as technical terms, foreign words, and acronyms. Be sure to include them (and their brief definitions, if necessary) on your slides.


Have other slide faults distracted you or driven you crazy? Please share them.



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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

11 comments on “4 Faults You Can Easily Avoid in Your Slide Presentations”

  • This post is simply AMAZING!!!! Completely different from everything I have already seen on PPT presentations. Thank you.

  • I have never heard the idea of a placeholder slide. I love it! What a great way to also avoid when the speaker’s comments advance beyond the current slide and as an audience member you’re wondering if the speaker forgot to move the presentation forward.

  • Caryn, I’m glad you like the placeholder idea. “Placeholder” is the term I use, but others may have another term for it, maybe something like “transition slide.”

    Thanks for noting that a placeholder can save the audience from worrying about whether the presenter forgot to advance the slides. Good point!


  • Excellent observations and helpful remedies! A pet peeve, since you asked: In training presentations, some presenters will simply read what is on their slides, adding no background, analysis, exceptional cases, further application . . . nothing. Pretty boring.

  • That’s a peeve of mine too, Olivia. Boring! People read much more slowly aloud than we can read silently on our own.

    Those presenters could just say “Read the essential points on this slide” if that’s their goal. But it would be more effective if they revealed one brief point at a time and elaborated on it.


  • Where’s Waldo…. tearing his hair out at presenters who read slides word-for-word. I totally agree with Olivia and Lynn. Reading slides word-for-word is one of the most annoying errors presenters make and when done to extreme, encourages viewer abandonment of the webinar or attendee zone-out in the face-to-face environment.

    Mary Catherine

  • Hi Diana,

    I would not pay for a PowerPoint template unless it was being designed specifically for me and my purpose.

    If you use PowerPoint, Microsoft includes many templates. I recently found one of them perfect for a presentation I gave at my church. Check them out.


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