Nightmare on Presentation Street: 10 Horrors to Avoid

October 30, 2013

We've all sat through nightmare presentations: You squirm with discomfort, cringe at overwhelming slides, and sometimes even go running in the opposite direction. Don't haunt your audiences! Decks should keep viewers on the edge of their seats, not crying for mercy.

With Halloween here, we've resurrected 10 horrors of presenting to avoid like the plague. Read at your own risk!

The Tomb of the Jargon Makers

"Synergize your ROI by leveraging your cloud asset utilization to drive ARPU." It may make you feel smart to say it, but it’s doubtful your audience will get it. Corporate Pig Latin and buzzword lingo kill your message. It’s the mummified opposite of a deliberate wordhack, a method used to carefully play with words to entice and intrigue.

Shock! Horror! The Incredible Shrinking Type

"You may not be able to read this in the back. Let me read it for you." This trick will hurt you. Make the type you use on your slides big and legible. If you have a lot of detail that needs to fit on a page, put it on a document and print it out. Use the 8ft Rule to help you avoid this mistake.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Your curse as a presenter: You know too much or you are too passionate about your subject. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s not always. What you need is a solid edit, chopping out non-essential information and detail, not just fixing tpyos*.

The Blob

A slide without a clear point is like a big, shapeless blob. The slide doesn’t direct audience attention, and fails to tell them what they need to know. Worse, it can’t back you up as a speaker. As you prepare your presentation, make sure every slide has a point. Once you know what it is, sharpen it.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Label

Titles help. But defaulting to labels instead of headlines doesn’t help you, or your audience. Turn the label into a headline so your audience knows at a glance the point you’re trying to drive home. Back it up with evidence.

The Invasion Of The Body-Snatchers

Don’t be a drone. There is no one “right” way to present. What worked for Steve Jobs won’t necessarily work for you, no matter how much you try. Understand what type of presenter you are, and let you and PowerPoint work as a double act. Build off your strengths and let PowerPoint cover your weaknesses.

The Franken-deck

Two slides from your latest presentation, a few from Bob’s, cut-and-paste some facts and figures scoured from the internet, insert a chart and table -- congratulations, you’ve created a monster! It’s the PowerPoint equivalent of robbing body parts and stitching them together. You may have the juice to make it come alive, but it’s still ugly.

Curse of the Were-Clip-Art

You've probably heard of the picture superiority effect: We’re more likely to remember things if we see a picture. But putting clip-art on a slide that doesn’t visually add to your argument is like puppies suddenly landing in the middle of your sentence. Cute, but nonsensical. Put words and pictures together to reinforce the points you want to make, not distract from them.

Dead Man’s Bones

A meandering presentation with blind turns, asides and dead ends is annoying for the audience. Like a good story, a good presentation has a solid structure. Think of it as a skeleton with three parts: hook, meat and payoff. Hang your presentation around these bones to quench the frustration.

Silver Bullet

We left the obvious one for last: No one likes bullets except a lazy presenter. There are times when they work, but in this case, it’s not the odd bullet that kills, it’s the clip. More than three on a slide,  you may want to begin exercising a little control.

*Yes, I know that’s a mistake.

About the Author

Gavin McMahon is a PowerPoint obsessive. He’s a founding partner at fassforward Consulting Group, and blogs about PowerPoint, communication, infographics and Message Discipline at You can tweet to him @powerfulpoint and follow him on Google+.

Read More: 4 SlideShare Tips Inspired by Steve Jobs