All Articles Leadership Communication Breaking up is hard to do: 6 PowerPoint habits to break (part 2)

Breaking up is hard to do: 6 PowerPoint habits to break (part 2)

6 min read


Poor use of PowerPoint is such a common bad habit that it’s almost become the norm in the corporate world. Yet it’s not such a hard habit to break when you apply the simple and potent PowerPoint strategies that we address in this two-part series.

Last time, we focused on some of the common habits that even veteran speakers can fall into:

  • Following equations of “X slides per minute”
  • Putting too much text on a slide
  • Leaving out visuals

See part one of our series.

Have you had the opportunity to try the recommended tips to make your presentation more visual and audience-centric? If so, you’ve certainly seen your slide shows make great strides toward helping your audience understand and remember your takeaway message.

This week, we’ll add some simple steps that add a “wow” to your visuals and take your presentation to the next level.

Bad Habit No. 1: Assuming you’re stuck with the corporate template

Even if you are obligated to use a corporate PowerPoint template for your presentation, that doesn’t mean you’re forced to use the same-old poor slide layouts that make your message hard for listeners to grasp.

New Habit: When using the typical corporate data and bullet slides, use visual cues that draw attention to what you want the audience to look at.

In business, we often use data charts and graphs to illustrate an important point, but those data slides frequently contain too many details that can impede comprehension. Wendy Gates Corbett, president of Refresher Training and an expert in designing vivid presentations and corporate training materials, advocates repairing your relationship with PowerPoint by using simple design techniques that focus attention on your key points and help your audience hone in on your message.

First, as we learned last week, remove as much text as possible from your slide and make sure the text that remains is big and bold! Next, use some simple attention-getting strategies to draw the audience’s eyes to what you want them to see. These are just a few examples:

Shading and color

Put a shaded box behind the section of a graph that illustrates what you’re talking about, like this:

You can also provide the same type of visual cue with color.

Call-out boxes

Use call-out boxes or arrows to focus attention on the details you want the audience to look it. Even better, change the colors of the rest of the visual to make it appear “grayed out,” like this:


When you’re addressing several different points, don’t include everything on one slide. Doing so will have your audience reading instead of listening!

This is especially true with a bullet slide. Remember to cluster your ideas and control your pacing with a build that shows each bullet as you address it. Unrelated bullet points should have their own slide (for more information about minimizing text, see part one of our series.)

Don’t forget the three approaches to presentation: the catalyst, the interpreter and the expert.

Bad Habit No. 5: Feeling compelled to use the latest and greatest slideware tool

Are you afraid you’ll seem dated if you don’t immediately adopt the new “hot”? The truth is, picking the appropriate tool for the job is much more important than whether you’re using PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote or a conference room whiteboard. Your goal is not to impress your audience with your technical savvy. The only way you are going to achieve results is by making it easy for listeners to understand and make use of your message.

New habit: Focus on your message rather than the technology. What content do you need to include to draw attention to your key points and make an impact on your listeners? The right content might be a video or even using a prop on stage. Once you’ve developed the best content, choose the tool that best helps you conveys your message so it resonates with your audience.

Bad habit No. 6: Using slides as a teleprompter

Do you find yourself including bullets for everything you want to say, just to remind yourself not to leave out anything from your speech? I call this a “pop quiz.” You put yourself on the spot by making your notes visible to the entire audience, then feel obliged to talk about everything in your slides. The slides can interfere with your conversational tone and erode your confidence in your knowledge of the material.

There are much better ways to prompt yourself that won’t distract your audience or undermine your confidence!

New habit: If you want to use your PowerPoint to compose teleprompter notes, “HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations” author Nancy Duarte suggests writing them in “notes” view and then select “set up show.” After you attach your projector, select “presenter view.” Everything in your notes will appear on your laptop screen or confidence monitor, and only your slides will project behind you.

Another option is to use good, old-fashioned hard copy of your notes (which I suggest you have as a backup). If you’re uneasy about looking like an amateur by bringing notes to the podium, don’t worry! On the contrary, top presenters know it’s not what you bring to the podium but how you use it that sets apart great speakers. The trick is to refer to your notes while staying connected to your listeners.

For more tips on using notes, read “The Art of Using Notes.”

There’s no question that it can be challenging to break bad habits. But you can do it! Try these strategies, one at a time, and you’ll realize the huge payoff when experience the confidence boost your new habits will bring to your presentations!

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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