3 Signs That Your Slide Deck Stinks July 5 2011

Earlier this year, I was with an executive who was proudly showing me the Power Point presentation he had prepared for an upcoming strategic offsite.

Boring-ppt We got through three slides and he turned to me and asked me what I thought so far.  I asked if he really wanted to know and he said yes. My response was that I had seen the same exact presentation at a company conference in an entirely different industry just the day before. He looked crestfallen,  but, to his credit, he asked for details.  As kindly as  I could, I made a little “Blah, blah, blah” motion with my right hand and said that his first three slides were classic signs that the rest of the presentation was going to stink.

They’re classic because they’re so overused that when the audience sees them appear it immediately shuts down with a “Seen it before,” barely suppressed yawn.  Does your presentation deck have them?

Here’s the checklist:

  • The From/To Slide.  The dead giveaway on this one is the big huge arrow moving from left to right at the top of the slide. Then you have two columns of matched bullet points that tell the audience what the organization is moving away from and moving to. You know,  things like moving from working in silos to working across boundaries.
  • The Table of Strategic Initiatives Slide.  The classic version of this stinky slide is a table with five to seven columns with the title of a strategic initiative in the top row of each column. The titles are usually no bigger than a 16 pt. font because it’s hard to get that much text in with a bigger font. The rest of each column is filled up with an indeterminate amount of bulleted action steps that support the initiative. Those are usually in 10 or 12 pt. font because there’s even more to squeeze in.
  • The Org Chart Slide.  Can’t have a strategic presentation deck without an org chart, right? Seriously, though, does it really look that much different than the previous org chart? Probably not. It especially doesn’t to the people in the audience who have totally checked out by this point.

So, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably experiencing one of two reactions right now.

The first is a mixture of annoyance and chagrin because I’ve more or less described the deck you’ve been working on so diligently.  If that’s the case, I hope there is some food for thought in what I’ve shared.  Remember, a slide deck is not a memo.  You want to share the headlines and images that set up a compelling story, not document every last detail of your message. For expert advice on creating a compelling slide deck, check out Presentation Zen by Garr Renyolds and Resonate by Nancy Duarte .

The second likely reader reaction is knowing nods of the head because you’ve had to sit through the same presentation I just described. If that’s the case, what would you add to the list of signs that your slide deck stinks?

23 Responses to “3 Signs That Your Slide Deck Stinks”

  1. Jdlakecom says:

    Where do I start?
    - Text font size less than 32 point (actually 40, but I'll allow for 2nd and 3rd level points)
    - "Artistic" backgrounds that distract from the text
    - Presenters who read their slides verbatim (Hint: send me the deck, I can read it myself)

  2. I think it is worth commenting that lack of photographs makes any presentation stink. Photos engage the interest of the audience, and most companies have something interesting related to what they are doing that can add interest. Real stinkers are "Power Read" presentations where everything being said is written on the slide. It's called "Power Point," The less text you show on the slide the better the presentation……

  3. Fred says:

    Powerpoint is has-been! use http://www.prezi.com

  4. Jason says:

    More than an average of one bullet point per page. That means if you have 5 slides and one of them is a slide with 5 bullet points you are OK. More than that and you are in trouble.

    Also, if you say nothing that isn;t included in the text then you should have just sent it out for people to read at their leisure.

  5. Parker says:

    The same can be said about blog posts that use boring, stock images to illustrate their point (example: guy yawning). Use your own photos or find something cool and CC licensed on Flickr.

  6. Rob_Whelan says:

    Other bad slides: "Table of contents" – no one remembers if it's more than three slides.

    And my favorite, the ubiquitous "Questions?" slide at the very end of the presentation.

  7. Scott Eblin says:


    Fair point. Appreciate the coaching.

    Cheers –


  8. Garry says:

    Technical presentations to a non-technical audience that remain overly technical, boring, snoring, instead of trying to engage the non-technical audience. NASA has learned how to do this to engage the general public, but so many others…they get a big FAIL!

  9. Dean says:

    Unnecessary graphics, particularly pie charts.

  10. Michael McDonald says:

    Venn diagrams, four-part circular arrows that demonstrate a never-ending process, and four-blockers. I never want to see any of these again in a presentation!

  11. joe lezama says:

    Using the corporate template with 1/3 of the space with logos and disclaimers is an auto-shut-off.
    And the first commandment: Any slide for more than 4min is sinful.

    Avoid Prezi,it is great, but is only ment for skilled presenters that do not abuse of zooms and turns that make throw up. And specialy for the synthetic mind men with a very focused idea(not the standard executive).

  12. Randy McAdam says:

    I hate it when a company comes in and spends five or even six slides telling you how great and big they are. Then they always show you the slide with all the logos. You lose 20 minutes before you get to the content that is of interest. Please Please Please keep you company brag slide to one or none!!

  13. Jessica Lundberg says:

    Random clipart is the worst!

  14. Mike Sealy says:

    Good stuff, though it's generally a requirement in my company to send the slide deck out as a read-ahead before the meeting, so it HAS to be all-inclusive. The rule, though, is just to refer to one or two key points per page during the actual presentation itelf – and the expectation is that the audience will have read the deck and will be there armed with questions. It's pretty efficient when everyone does their part!

  15. Ophil says:

    Great points…however want to design "visual viagra"

    Check 'steal this presentation' http://www.slideshare.net/jessedee/steal-this-pre

    As always thanks thnks @jessedee

  16. One useful strategy to keep the presentation interesting for the audience AND ensuring that everyone can review the information before the presentation is sent or given is to use notes pages. It provides the presenter with extra information, but keeps the presentation from reading like a book.

  17. Andrew B. says:

    Here's the true test: Could you give your presentation during a power outage? If not, you're not prepared. Or you're relying on PowerPoint too much. Or it just plain sucks.

  18. haa haa i love all these comments. It just enriches my mind. I have them again and again. And have learnt lessons of the past. Corporate presenters need a new guru to change their thinking from strategic to lateral thinking that makes the change..

  19. John Zimmer says:

    Hey, Scott. A good post which, unfortunately, is played out time and again in presentations around the world.

    As to your question about what we would add to the list? Well, you dealt with slides at the beginning; let me share a post ("Two Slides You Can Lose") that deals with the end of the presentation: http://wp.me/pwfa1-1aq

    A key reason why so many presentations get gummed up with so much text and jargon is because people are not clear in their minds about where they want to go (let alone where they want the audience to go). I would encourage everyone to read George Orwell's classic 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language" for some keen insights into writing, speaking and, most importantly, thinking! http://wp.me/pwfa1-1KE



  20. eric dubbin says:

    Simple rule#1: "People will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel." Worry less about the slide set and more energy connecting with the audience. Otherwise you have (as I heard a sage once say): "a whole lot of teaching and not a whole lot of learning."

  21. jose Lezama says:

    Mr. Ophil:
    If SlidesShare is using that presentation they should be fined.
    A 72 slide ppt only shows their lack of focus, synthesis and respect for the audience time.
    They do what they preach not to do.

  22. I did a presentation once that had about 200 slides…set to 1 second each. It was actually a success.

  23. Ken Graham says:

    In some cases those three slides may be necessary because the boss has approved those additions or wants them. So you may not have a choice. On second thought, if your audience truly cares about the organizations strategic goals and how the organizations efforts or actions support them, why not show it all layed out on a slide. Just don't make it wordy and hit the high points or key words.
    Ken (guest)

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