Testing your slides; Issue #281 March 5, 2013

What does the audience think when they see a spelling error or other mistake on your slides? They start to wonder if you really took the time to look at your slides before you presented and they question how much you care about delivering a great presentation for them. A lot of the mistakes I see could have been prevented. In this article, I want to examine five common problem areas and how presenters can avoid them.

Spelling and grammar
On a slide I was sent for a workshop last fall, I found two spelling errors on one slide. One of them was the word “video” spelled as “vidio”. What does your audience think when they see spelling or grammatical errors? It is likely that your credibility will take a hit. A good way to catch these mistakes is to read the words on your slide in reverse order. By reading in reverse order, your brain won’t anticipate the next word and skip over it even if it is misspelled (you have probably seen some of these example paragraphs on the Internet where a lot of the letters in the words are missing and you can still read all the words just fine because your brain anticipates what the word should be).

Text wrapping
On one client slide the text inside a rounded rectangle was a little too long, so the last letter of the word wrapped on to the next line. This is how the slide was used when presenting to a prospective client. The audience sees this and wonders what is wrong. It shifts their focus away from the message to trying to figure out why the slide looks strange. If you can’t make the shape bigger, adjust the internal margin of the text within the shape. When I made this adjustment, the last letter joined the rest of the word and looked proper again.

Animation sequence
On a slide being used to present to a Board of Directors, the client was building a graph piece by piece. But they had never tested it in Slide Show mode, because they had the labels for the axes coming on last. The audience would have been confused about what the graph was showing until the very end when the axes labels appeared, explaining what was being measured on the graph. Presenters can easily fix these errors by carefully walking through each slide in Slide Show mode in advance and focusing on the sequence of builds to ensure they tell the story properly.

Contrast of Colors
At a conference last fall, a presenter used grey text on a blue background. The words were the focus of the point he was making, but we couldn’t see the text because the colors he chose did not have enough contrast. It is deceiving to look at our laptop or flat panel screen when trying to determine if the colors we are using have enough contrast. Those screens are much brighter than a projector, which dulls almost every color in a well-lit room. Make sure you have tested your colors using the Color Contrast Calculator, and you test your slides on a projector, if possible, in the room you will be speaking in.

Broken or Misdirected Hyperlinks
I have been guilty of this mistake myself. During a customized workshop, I clicked on a hyperlink to show slide makeovers that I had done, but the link went to the makeover file for a different client. I had forgotten to update the link before I started. I had not followed my own advice to double check all hyperlinks in your presentation before you start. This is especially important if you are presenting on a different computer. To make sure links don’t break when you move between computers, put all the files you will be linking to in the same folder as the PowerPoint file before you create the links.

Will checking these five areas prevent all potential problems in your presentation? No, but they will help avoid the ones that you know should not happen. Add these checks to your pre-presentation checklist and invest the time to make sure you avoid these common errors.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.