All Articles Leadership Communication Breaking up Is hard to do: 6 PowerPoint habits to break (part 1)

Breaking up Is hard to do: 6 PowerPoint habits to break (part 1)

5 min read


It’s easy for all of us to develop bad habits, whether drinking too much coffee or always running late, but it can be much harder to break them! In the corporate world, there is one bad habit that we’d like to see everyone kick to the curb: poor use of PowerPoint. Even the most skilled presenters can do better! Replacing those bad PowerPoint habits with more effective strategies allows you to tell a more engaging story, connect with your listeners, and even change the conversation.

If you’ve fallen into some bad PowerPoint habits, you may feel stuck in a rut with your presentation slides. If you feel that way, imagine how your audience is feeling! Do you notice that people’s eyes tend to glaze over as they attempt to take in your PowerPoint presentation? Can you blame them? The questions becomes, what can you do to liven things up, bring a fresh, new perspective to your presentation visuals, and help your listeners to “get it”?

This week, we’ll address three common PowerPoint habits that you can easily replace with more savvy strategies. Be sure to come back next week when we’ll focus on three more habits in part 2 of our series.

Bad Habit No. 1: Following equations of “X slides per minute”

Have you been asked to limit your presentation to a certain number of slides? Some mistakenly believe that the length of a presentation should be measured by the number of slides you plan to show. That misconception leads people to look for a magic number of slides per minute for an ideal presentation. There is no such thing!

New Habit: Focus on your audience and your message rather than the number of slides. Who are your listeners and what do they care about? Use slides if they help your audience understand or remember what you are saying. You may even want to consider using props or a video to supplement or replace a slide deck. In the book “The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations,” Nancy Duarte advises, “Don’t worry about slide count. Just make your slides count.”

To learn more about avoiding dependency on slides, read this post: “Who Said PowerPoint Rules?”

Bad Habit No. 2: Putting too much text on a slide

We’ve all seen them — slides so chock full of text that there’s no way the audience can even see the words, much less take in the message. In his book “Presentation Zen,” Garr Reynolds aptly calls heavy text slides “slideuments.” If your content can be distributed and clearly understood without a presenter, you’ve created a document, not a presentation. It’s easy to fall into this bad habit when you feel compelled to share everything you know with your audience. This “curse of knowledge” leads to information overload that only makes your listeners shut down.

New Habit: To help “manage your real estate” and make sure your text is visible to everyone in the room, use a minimum of 30-point type on your slides. That automatically limits the amount of text and forces you to pare it down to the key points you want to convey, or better yet, to one idea per slide.

To learn more about avoiding the curse of knowledge, read this post: “The Curse of Overthinking Your Presentation.”

Bad Habit No. 3: Leaving out images

Making your slides text-centric takes the attention off you as a speaker. Have you noticed that people are compelled to read any text that is put in front of them? Wendy Gates Corbett, president of Refresher Training and an expert in designing vivid presentations and corporate training materials, describes the effect this way: “People who can read can’t NOT read.” While your audience is reading your slides, they are not listening to what you’re saying.

New habit: Try using relevant images that convey the essence of your message with only a few key words on each slide (what I call a “glance & grab” strategy). Duarte, author and CEO of Duarte, Inc., suggests asking yourself, “What would I like people to remember … ?” and giving that point visual emphasis. On the left is a typical text slide with bulleted information. The right picture can convey your message to the audience in an instant, without distracting them with words to read while they are trying to listen.



See more PowerPoint examples by Wendy Gates Corbett from her website.

To learn more, read this post: “Using ‘Glance & Grab’ to Perk Up Your PowerPoint.”

I guarantee you’ll be surprised at the big impact these simple changes can make in your presentations! Time and time again I see my clients experience an “aha” moment when they realize how effectively they can engage with their listeners using these techniques. Don’t forget to join us again next week when we’ll address these additional PowerPoint habits:

  • Assuming you’re stuck with the corporate template
  • Feeling compelled to use the “hot” new presentation tool
  • Using slides as a teleprompter

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

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