PowerPoint Presentations - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

PowerPoint - The Good

Good choice of design template
Good choice of design template - Simple, easy on the eyes and good contrast between font and background. © Wendy Russell

With apologies to Sergio Leone, I thought it would be fun to take a look at The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of PowerPoint presentations. So, without further ado, let's start with the good. Here is a list (in no particular order) of several good features that I find really useful in PowerPoint.

PowerPoint - The Good

  1. Easy to use

  2. The most obvious feature of PowerPoint, no matter the version, is that it is so easy to use. It is a great tool for business and for teachers, to integrate technology into the classroom.

  1. AutoCorrect

  2. All of Microsoft Office products have a feature called AutoCorrect. As the title suggests, PowerPoint will automatically correct many common errors as you type. Some of the examples that are very helpful are -
  • change 1/2 to ½ (and other common fractions as well)
  • recognizes Internet addresses and enters them as hyperlinks
  • superscript -- changes 2nd to 2nd
  • fixes two initial capitals - many people will type THe at the start of a sentence, by mistake. This is automatically corrected to The
  • corrects typing errors when Caps Lock is left on by mistake
  • AutoCorrect in PowerPoint 2007
  • Using AutoCorrect in PowerPoint

  • List font names in their fonts

  • This handy feature lets you see how the font will look, before you apply it, right in the font list. To activate this option if it is not already turned on, choose Tools > Customize from the menu.
    • Display the PowerPoint Font List in Their Own Fonts

    • Master slides

    • Editing the master slides, lets you customize your presentation to suit your specific needs. For example, if you want a specific font to be used on all slides, rather than make this change on each individual slide, set this option on the master slides, so you only need to do this once.


    • Package your presentation to play on another computer

    • This feature, known as Package for CD in PowerPoint 2003, or Pack and Go in PowerPoint 2000 will pack up all the components of your presentation, including all the fonts used and any sounds or pictures you have embedded, so that you can then play your presentation on another computer. You can choose to include the PowerPoint Viewer as well, so that your presentation can even be played on computers that do not have PowerPoint installed.

    • Design templates / themes

    • Each version of PowerPoint comes with a selection of design templates (PowerPoint 2003 and earlier) or design themes (PowerPoint 2007) that you can apply to your presentation to coordinate all the slides. You can download additional free templates from many sources to add to your selection choices.

    • Embed true type fonts

    • If you have a really nifty font that adds just the right element to your presentation, there is a chance that other computers may not have this font installed. The result can have disastrous effects on your slide show, if you play it on a different computer. The answer is to embed the true type fonts into the presentation and then those fonts will display just as you intended, on any computer.

    • AutoContent Wizard

    • Many frequent users of PowerPoint tend to downplay the value of the AutoContent Wizard. However, if you are new to making presentations, and don't know where to begin, use this feature as a starting place to generate ideas.

      This series of premade templates is designed to speed up the process of making a new presentation. Many templates are included with each install of PowerPoint. Most of the templates available in the AutoContent Wizard are slanted towards business presentations, such as a Business plan and Employee orientation, but there are still many generic types too, such as a Brainstorming session and Certificates.
      • AutoContent Wizard for Business Presentations

      Next - PowerPoint - The Bad

      Overall, I think PowerPoint is the best tool out there for making a quick and easy visual presentation to accompany your talk. However, there are a few features that annoy me, and I am sure I am not alone.

      In no particular order, how about ...?

      1. Fast saves

      2. It seems like a good idea. PowerPoint saves only the most recent changes, so it is a few seconds faster. However, it causes your file size to just keep growing and growing, sometimes to an unmanageable size, and for no good reason. This causes a real problem when you want to email your presentation. It is also the biggest reason for corrupt PowerPoint presentations.
        • Disable Fast Saves to Reduce File Size

      1. Automatic capitalization

      2. One feature that I find extremely annoying in PowerPoint, and all the Microsoft Office products actually, is the default setting in the program to capitalize the first word in a line of text. This is one of the AutoCorrect features. I can see the point perhaps in Microsoft Word, but not in PowerPoint. One of the main features of PowerPoint is creating slides containing bulleted text, which should not be sentences, but simply jot notes. These points do not need to begin with a capital letter.
        • Stop Automatic Capitalization in PowerPoint 2007
        • Stop Automatic Capitalization in PowerPoint

      3. Start a new line without a bullet

      4. At times you may want to type a second line of text pertaining to the same bulleted point. When you hit the Enter key, PowerPoint gives you a new bullet. This is not always what you want.

        Note - Keep in mind that your PowerPoint presentation is not the place to add lengthy text passages. That should be done on the speaker notes, for your eyes only. Keep your bullet points short and to the point. However, there are those few times when it is nice to be able to expand your text, and without a bullet.

      5. Get rid of the Getting Started task pane

      6. I don't know about you, but it irks me to have the Getting Started task pane appear each time I open PowerPoint. Most of the contents are redundant, because they are easily found elsewhere. The good news is that there is a quick fix for that.
        • Disable Getting Started Task Pane

      7. Design themes/templates can be bad too

      8. Design templates (PowerPoint 2003 and earlier) or design themes(PowerPoint 2007) are a wonderful helper in PowerPoint. They keep your presentation all coordinated and looking like a complete package. But, oh brother -- some of the choices leave a lot to be desired. Don't be fooled into thinking that just because the template/theme is part of the program, that it is a good choice for your material. Be selective and choose wisely for your topic.

      9. Short menus

      10. Short menus were designed to put the most often used features in that menu near the top. After you make a choice from the menu, it is reshuffled for the next time you access it. The result is that the menu is rarely the same, so you are always searching for the command you want. And -- you have extra clicks to get there.

      11. Spell checker

      12. This is really just a "pet peeve" -- and maybe it is just my pet peeve. I know -- Microsoft is an American company -- but not all users of PowerPoint are American. It is great that the spell checker finds all the misspelled words. I do take offense though, to the fact that most of the rest of the world spells these words as colour, favour, honour, neighbour and the program decides that they are spelling errors. These are not misspellings.

        Since the majority of people using PowerPoint are in the business world, we don't all have the access or network permissions to edit the program dictionary. Couldn't Microsoft find a way to include these correct spellings in the standard dictionary? OK, 'nuff said.

        Next - PowerPoint - The Ugly

        This is really more about ugly PowerPoint presentations, rather than ugly features in PowerPoint. As I mentioned in the two previous pages, PowerPoint is really a great tool to use as an accompaniment to your oral presentation. However, many people believe that PowerPoint is the presentation. Not so.

        Again in no particular order -

        1. Poor font choices

        2. A PowerPoint presentation usually has many slides that contain text. But if the audience can't read the text on the slides, what good are they? Make sure there is good contrast between the slide background color and the text color. Avoid script type fonts, as they are hard to read. Keep the fonts simple and don't use less than a 30 point font for easy reading in the back rows.

        1. No graphics - all text presentations

        2. Nothing is more boring than sitting through a PowerPoint presentation that contains only text. Keep your audience interested by including pictures and other graphics such as pertinent charts that reflect the content of your presentation. Drive your point home with a picture rather than text.

        3. Poor color choices

        4. Avoid unusual or electrifying color choices. Many are unsettling to the audience, or hard to read, so they won't be listening for your message. Pick a background color that is suitable for the topic and make sure there is good contrast between the background and font color choices. If possible stick to two main colors and use a third color sparingly, as an accent.
          • Background Colors and Graphics in PowerPoint 2007
          • Add Colored Backgrounds in PowerPoint

        5. Using PowerPoint as a crutch

        6. So many presenters rely on PowerPoint as being their presentation. I cannot stress this enough -- you are the presentation. PowerPoint is an enhancement to the presentation. Along this vein, there are two frequent mistakes made by presenters.

          • Too much text
            Do not write the complete content for the presentation on the slides. PowerPoint is meant only as an accompaniment to your oral presentation. If all you are going to do is write your whole speech on the slides, everyone could just stay home. Why would they need you?

            Keep the text to a minimum on your slides -- use "jot notes". Three or four bullet points is plenty for a slide. If a simple graphic will illustrate your point, use it rather than text.

          • Reading the slides
            Along with too much text on the slides, nothing is worse than a presenter who turns toward the screen and proceeds to read the slides to the audience. Again, what does the audience need you for? Email them a handout of the presentation and save everyone the time and money.

        7. Too many animations

        8. Animations are meant to add a little pizzazz to your presentation, and preferably grab the audience's attention for an important point. Use them sparingly and your presentation will be much more effective. Remember that old cliché "less is more".
          • Animation Schemes in PowerPoint 2003

        9. Too many different transitions

        10. Transitions are similar to animations in that they should be used only to enhance your presentation. If you use transitions, try to keep them simple and use the same one throughout the presentation. The audience should be interested in your message, not how you can dazzle them with motion.

        11. Inappropriate or too many sounds

        12. Although sound effects are included with the program, and you can easily add your own, use music and sound effects either to make a crucial point (sound effect) or as subtle ambient background music. You can embed music into PowerPoint presentations or play tracks from a CD. Music, sounds or narration each have their uses in a variety of presentation situations. Use them wisely.

        13. Design templates/themes again -- they can really be ugly

        14. (Check the sample at the top, right of this page).
          Although using the design templates can speed up the process of creating an attractive PowerPoint presentation, many of the templates are simply too busy or glitzy, and some are downright ugly, at least in my opinion. The simpler the better is always my choice. You want to use PowerPoint as an aid to get your message across. So many speakers forget that the audience came to see and hear them and not their PowerPoint accompaniment.

          Use the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it silly simple) when creating your visual presentation. Then you can be sure the audience gets the message you intended and was not just dazzled -- or worse -- mystified by what they saw on screen.

          Back to PowerPoint - The Good

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