Have you ever been asked to do a powerpoint presentation and not known where to start? And how many of us have experienced the, “oh no, not powerpoint again!?!?!?” when the screen flickers on up front.

Avoid 7 Deadly Sins of Powerpoint - photo by Dan Brady

photo by Dan Brady

Honestly, I think powerpoint while a necessary evil at times, can indeed be enjoyable, effective and fun. Having put many, many presentations together using PowerPoint and now Keynote – I’ve found a few tricks to help along the way.

Whenever I am in a position to create a powerpoint as part of a presentation I find it quite helpful to start with the ““7 Deadly Sins of PowerPoint” as a checklist”.

Here is a good print (PDF) version for you to have on hand.
Here are the 7 sins and my take on how to get it right and “encourage your audience to focus on your message and learn more”.
Thanks to Terri Lackey and Steve Williams for the following points!

The 7 Sins, condensed

Deadly sin # 1 – Too little contrast

My thoughts: rule of thumb: stick to colors which you find in good print. Black on white or light blue background. Be creative – but forget that people need to be able to read it and you lose the point ;-)

Deadly sin # 2 – Too many colors

(for text and objects) My thoughts: the idea here is consistency. If the font changes color on each slide, and the background every other, we all get lost trying to mentally adjust. A good theme might have up to three different colors.

Deadly sin # 3 – Too much text

My thoughts: I have to leave this point as is – “uncondensed”. This is the #1 offense in my book. There is very little “power” in a slide with too much text. If you read nothing else – read this one!!

Too much text makes a slide look cluttered and hard to read. “Use the five and 10 rule. Limit each slide to about five lines of text that can be read in about 10 seconds. Six lines are okay, seven if you have to … but when you get beyond that you have too much text.” Williams said if the presentation requires more text, automate the text so it doesn’t come on the screen at the same time. Present part of it on half the slide, giving the viewer time to read it, then put the remainder up on the bottom half of the slide.

Deadly sin # 4 – Text that is too small

My thoughts: the rule of thumb I have found is 20 or 22 point font. 18 point is the smallest you should ever go. Of course the size of screen you will be presenting on always has an effect on this. As much as possible avoid last minute format edits by choosing large font size from the beginning!

Williams advised. “If in doubt, make it larger.”

Deadly sin # 5 – Too many bullets

My thoughts: outlines are great for speakers, and help listeners to a certain extent too. If it is not broken up and the speaker is actually reading the bullets word for word – anticipate snoring! More bullets can = less retention.

Deadly sin # 6 – Too many transition effects

My thoughts: Transition effects are great. I always use them as they keep the slide to slide display interesting. Use them, but only choose a two or three different effects at most for your next presentation. Maybe the first five slides one effect, the next five another, and so on.

Deadly sin # 7 – Using boring slides

My thoughts: I have seen some great presentations. Good factors the great ones have: surprize, graphical taste, simplicity. The best presentations I can think of, the presenter never told me he was using “powerpoint”, scarcely looked at the screen, made good eye contact with the audience and was relaxed – even if the powerpoint quit. Now that is something for me to shoot for.


Do you agree with these 7 Deadly Sins of Powerpoint? What would you add to your powerpoint must do or must not do list?

Helpful sites on effectively building Powerpoint and Keynote presentations:

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