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JT on Stop making bad PowerPoint presentations
JT on Stop making bad PowerPoint presentations

JT on Stop making bad PowerPoint presentations

This afternoon I discovered an article, “Stop making bad PowerPoint presentations.”Overall, I think the author’s written a pretty strong article. There are so many points made that presenters should consider taking to heart.

Early on, the question is asked, “Why, then, are so many presentations bad?”

I think it generally comes down to a lack of education, a lack of training. Most people are simply told, “you need to give a presentation on Friday, no more than X slides.”  It’s late Wednesday afternoon, they click on the never-before-used PowerPoint (or Keynote) icon, and start typing stuff in.

Giving effective presentations is not something done successfully, just like any other activity, without preparation and forethought. The problem is, whatever training most folks receive, falls into the ‘bland, one shoe fits all’ type category. I’ve been there, I have the t-shirt (or ppt template).

So when I came across similar ‘generic’ guidance in the article, it really stuck out to me. While I like the article overall, I really do disagree with this point:

  • Follow the 10-20-30 rule
  • Use no more than 10 slides.
  • Speak for no longer than 20 minutes.
  • Use a 30-point font for your slides.

This is right up there with the worst of any corporate training I’ve received. It gives no consideration for the content, the message you need to deliver.  You may as well run down the list with things like: Only 5-7 bullets per slide; Make sure the company logo’s on every slide; Stick to the theme we give you and never vary; No black text on blue backgrounds.

I’ve written a number of articles on public speaking myself. In “15 Ways You Can Be a Better Speaker” ( ), in contrast with the 10/20/30 notion, I suggest these:

  • One. Idea. Per. Slide. Period.
  • Avoid Bullet Points
    Whenever possible (see previous item).
  • No one really cares how many slides you have. (See previous, previous point)
    Unless your presentation sucks.

Above all, study the topic, read some books. There are a number of good ones out there!


The Naked Presenter


Presentation Zen

Image credit: Winston Churchill


  1. Patrick Gutelius

    You’re dead right. Notably effective is keeping in mind the 10-20-30 rule you mentioned. As an audience member, I find static text mind numbing, and if the presenter is just reading the text on the screen… then catatonia is inevitable. Ever heard of Edward Tufte? His guidelines are great, and ought to be applied in principle to the PP slides, but especially to accompanying handouts. I.E. don’t give the audience just a hardcopy of your slides. Give them info that will engage their minds.
    Anyway, thanks for the posting, always helpful to get reminders of good practices.

    1. JT

      Hi Patrick,

      Appreciate the comment. Yes, providing the slide deck as a printout is a no-no from my perspective too. My view: If they’re good enough as reference without me, you probably didn’t need me there in the first place.

      Of course, we’re not discussing something like a ‘project review’ where a ‘presentation’ is really more of an in-depth on-screen document review.



    1. JT

      Hi Jennifer,

      I am familiar with Prezi which can also be very useful. The issue I strive for though is less the specific tool though. All too frequently the crux of the problem is a presenter using the tool as a crutch. The tool is there to support us, the speakers, not the other way around.



  2. Fermin Aldea

    An excellent pi\oint made here is that it’s all about the content and remembering the presentation is to be used as a tool.. When you walk away from a good presentation you remember content, not the slides or the witty cartoons and images that ofen distract from making your point in a professional and intelligent manner.

  3. A few pieces of advice that have served me well:

    1. Don’t read your slides out to the audience. They will spot it. Instead, make sure you know exactly what you’re talking about, and talk about it. The slides are simply there to back up what you’re saying.

    2. If you’re using bullets, make them all appear at the same time – don’t transition them in one at a time. You’ll find yourself talking about the entire content of the slide whilst just the first one or two bullets is visible, then have to flip through the rest saying “we’ve already covered all this stuff”.

    3. If you change the sequence of slides, or introduce new slides at the last minute, commit what you’ve done to memory. Otherwise, you’ll stumble when something appears when you weren’t expecting it.

    In my view, the best presentations have virtually no text on slides at all – obviously this can’t work for many presentations, particularly technical ones, but using visuals that focus the attention on the presenter is a particularly strong approach.

    1. JT

      Hi James,

      You make some solid points.  I must admit to having been guilty of #2. The notion of bringing in points one-by-one, for me, stemmed from not wanting the audience to get ahead of me. Invariably, I’d do exactly what you describe…particularly if I hadn’t had time to do enough practice beforehand.

      I subscribe to Garr Reynolds’ approach, as you suggest, of near-zero text. Not always possible, but preferable whenever possible.

      Thank you for the comment.


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