How to not suck at powerpoint, keynote or any slideshow? Follow this 1 rule

How not to suck at powerpoint


Fight against documents pretending to be powerpoint slides

This is a personal peeve of mine… And I know I’m guilty of breaking this rule. However, I see such badly put together slideshows sometimes that I feel I have to take a public stand.

And this is especially the case because I work in education, and more specifically in a field where the so-called experts should know better.

The 1 rule

Here it is in a nutshell [climbs up on soapbox]…

If you are delivering a presentation using powerpoint or keynote or some kind of slideshow software, your presentation is likely to suck unless you follow this one rule:

  • If you want to refer to something that requires more than 8 words on a slide, then supply a handout instead.

This rule applies to your boss as well. And your colleagues… Their presentations suck big time too.


To summarise this rule, I’ve supplied a single image slide show. It’s the picture above. Feel free to forward this blog post and accompanying message to anyone who insists on producing what I call slide-uments or docu-slides.

You know what I’m talking about right? A Slide-ument is any of the following:

  • When you have one slide with a 500 word essay written on in 12 point font
  • When you produce graphs and charts in MS Excel and screenshot them for your audience.
  • When you use more than 3 bullet points.

The solution to crappy slideshows (and presentations)

Why do people make crappy slideshows? The answer is simple… it’s a crutch. Unless you’re Tony Robbin’s you are probably like the rest of us and live in fear of public speaking of any kind.

A crappy slideshow is a crutch to make up for this insecurity and lack of confidence. Here’s the solution (but you won’t like it):

  1. Do more public speaking.
  2. Practice before hand.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2

Here’s a summary of my own slideshow preparation mantras to live or die by:

  • Don’t use words.
  • If words are necessary, aim for no more than 8 words on a slide.
  • Use high quality images.
  • Use a simple clear diagram.
  • Draw a picture.
  • Don’t be tempted by those crappy animations and slide transitions.
  • Don’t expect the venue’s wifi to work when you link to that Youtube clip.
  • Avoid using that crappy corporate template.
  • Supply a handout if you think people really need one.
  • Always pack a spare Thunderbolt to VGA adapter (if you’re on a Mac).

And regarding handouts

If it’s really necessary to supply a handout:

  • You’d better to make it a 1 pager. This is true for conferences. Your detailed 10 pages of notes are just going to get thrown out or filed in a folder and never looked at again. Save the trees.
  • Print it in colour. Yes, it’s 100x more expensive, but you want people to read it right?
  • Print it on A3 paper. Now this is just plain annoying… but it’s got to be big enough, colourful enough, and annoying enough that it totally dominates all of the crappy handouts produced by everyone else swilling around in your conference bag. And you’ll increase the chance that someone will actually look at it again.
  • Put your real notes online. Anyone who cares about what you’ve got to say will go and find it. Provided that you’ve made it easy to find… So:
  • Blog your notes. Or create them in Google Docs and share the link by email. Or do both. It’s not hard, and if you’ve never done either of these before it’s a really great learning curve.

Breaking the rules

Are there times that you can break these rules for slideshows and presentations? Yes… of course, and I do it all the time.

However, if you are a serial slide-ument offender (or you know someone who is), you need to stick to the rules above.

And you probably need a 12-step programme of some kind to break your addiction. As a former addict and offender, I’m setting up a support group…

[climbs down off soapbox]



Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

2 thoughts

  1. Agree, agree, agree. I still need a good telling off every now and again but I’m heading in the right direction.

Leave a Reply