Issue #146 October 30, 2007

PowerPoint Tip: Text Heavy Slides Annoy Audiences Survey Says

In the third Annoying PowerPoint Survey that wrapped up a week ago, the major conclusion is that we are suffering through an epidemic of overloaded text slides – and we are not happy about it. The survey results point to the need for presenters to increase the use of relevant visuals to replace text and allow more of a conversation with the audience instead of a recitation of the slide text. When asked to select the top three things that annoy them about bad PowerPoint presentations, the respondents cited the following as the most annoying: The speaker read the slides to us – 67.4% Full sentences instead of bullet points – 45.4% Text so small I couldn’t read it – 45.0% While the top ranked issue has not changed in the three surveys (previous surveys were done in 2003 and 2005), what stood out clearly this time was that the top three annoyances all relate to overloaded text slides. And the rest of the annoying characteristics were ranked well behind these top three. It is clear that our audiences are getting sick and tired of having reports read to them and it being called a presentation. The results are to be taken seriously, as 62% of the 604 people who participated in the survey indicated that they see over 100 presentations per year. One-third of the respondents said that they see annoying elements in over half of all the presentations they see. Survey participants also had the opportunity to write in comments and over 360 did so. After analyzing the comments, here are the other top concerns. 1. A lack of presentation skills by presenters. This ranges from not knowing how to use PowerPoint or presentation equipment, to not being familiar with their presentations, to a general lack of preparation and a focus on the slides instead of the content. 2. Poor slide design and layout, including poor color selection and layouts that are inconsistent throughout the presentation. 3. Reinforcement of the desire for more visuals and less text on slides. So given these results, what should you do? My suggestion is to redouble your efforts to think visually about ideas you want to present. One key way to do this is to start paying attention to the words or phrases that you use to describe your ideas. If you hear words or phrases that describe relationships, such as “when this… then …”, “subordinate”, or “component parts”, you should be thinking diagram. If you are telling a story, describing a place or event, or referring to a person, use a photograph. The same goes for graphs, charts and screen shots. It is not easy at first, but once you start paying attention, you will start to see the visual potential in many ideas.