8 Mistakes when Creating Microsoft PowerPoint Presentations

the word mistake

Following a gruelling 5-day marathon of seemingly never ending Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, David Canfield of Symplebyte has drawn up a hitlist of the 8 biggest mistakes that presenters make.In this article he looks at the common mistakes and how these can be avoided.

I’ve just come back from a gruelling week of corporate meetings, a 5-day marathon of seemingly never-ending Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. As the person in charge of marketing and IT, part of my job is to be the contact point for all of the attendees, folks ranging from 1st year sales reps to divisional presidents, COOs and CEOs. Everyone is required to send me their presentations in advance, so that they can all be put on a single computer. If I get them in time, I usually go through them quickly and fix any of the obvious problems. Human nature being what it is though, most people actually gave me their presentation the morning they were presenting, usually on a memory stick with the words ‘I made some last-minute changes, just put this one in instead…’. Sometimes this doesn’t work quite as well as they would like.

1. Using Fonts in PowerPoint – Microsoft PowerPoint doesn’t embed fonts by default, which means that you may have a font on your computer that someone else does not. When they open your presentation it will look very much unlike you had expected it to, because when Windows can not find the font you specified it will substitute another font, with results that are usually not very pretty. I had a total of 24 presentations shown from my laptop, and 4 of them did not format correctly because of fonts that were not found (I have 379 fonts installed on my computer, which is fairly typical of today’s Windows PC). In two cases it caused some minor problems reading some tables, another was easily fixed because masters had been used properly, but the fourth was a complete disaster, and the presentation was not usable. It could have been fixed by copying the required font to my computer, or by taking 30 minutes to reformat everything, but you simply don’t have the time to make fixes like this when it’s your turn to present.

So, what’s to do? Well, there are a couple of ways to try to keep this from happening. The first is to stick to fonts that are common to most Windows computers. Arial, Times New Roman, Tahoma, and Verdana are some examples of fonts that most Windows computers should have loaded. I say should because you can never be 100% sure of what fonts are loaded on the target computer. You can look to see what fonts Microsoft loads with various programs. Remember, though, that it is relatively easy to uninstall a font, and some people will remove fonts that they don’t use. The ones used here are frequently called for, however, so most people should have those loaded.

The second way is to tell PowerPoint to embed your fonts. This means that the fonts you use will travel with your presentation, and should eliminate the missing font problem. To do this select Tools -> Options from the main menu, then select the Save tab on the form that pops up (this is the way it looks in PowerPoint 2003):


Now click on the box next to ‘Embed TrueType fonts’, and click on OK. If you’re trying to save a presentation that includes non-TrueType fonts (for example Adobe PostScript or some OpenType fonts), you’ll get the following warning:

Remember, though, that embedding fonts can substantially increase the size of your presentation.

The final way is to use the Package for CD feature in PowerPoint 2003 or Pack and Go wizard in PowerPoint 2002. What’s nice about this is that it will include all objects associated with your presentation, which will also eliminate some of the other mistakes mentioned later on. In addition, it will include the PowerPoint viewer by default in the package (PowerPoint 2003), so that even if the target computer does not have PowerPoint loaded you will still be able to view your presentation. Simply select File -> Package for CD, then follow the prompts.

2. Embedded objects – Yes, sounds and movies can definitely add some spice to your presentation, but you look pretty silly if they don’t work. I would go so far as to say if you are not showing the presentation on the same computer that you created it with I would strongly advise you NOT to include any embedded movies or sound files. I’ve just seen these things fail too many times. Only one of the 24 presenters here had attempted to include a movie, and this is how it went wrong:

When he gave me his presentation he did not include the movie file, so there was a last minute scramble to get it on my computer.

Even after I copied the file it was still linked incorrectly, with PowerPoint looking for the file under HisUserName/My Documents/…, where I didn’t have the HisUserName folders.
I eventually got the .wmv file to run inside the object container in the presentation when the slide loaded, but it took more time than we had during the meeting and had to be done afterwards. No one in the meeting saw the movie.

If you still want to try, you should definitely use the Package for CD or Pack and Go options mentioned above, and if at all possible preview your presentation before you have to give it.

3. Bullet your ideas – The idea behind giving a presentation using PowerPoint is to create a guide for your talk, with supporting images and documents. At least half of the presenters here included everything they wanted to say on the slides. This creates a couple of problems:

  • It’s too small to read. Instead of listening to you your audience is straining to read everything on the screen.
  • Too many slides. The feeling is that it just goes on and on and on…
  • Your audience will read ahead. Keep them guessing, keep them focused on you.

4. Use masters – If you’re using one of the templates included with PowerPoint you’re already using masters. By using a master you can more easily maintain and stay consistent with your slides. Your logo is always in the same spot, your bullets and fonts are the same throughout the presentation. In addition, if you use the master you are embedding your logo only once, instead of on every page. You can view your slide masters by going to the main menu and selecting View -> Master -> Slide Master. Anything formatted on your slide master will be the default layout for every slide.

One of the presenters had used a font which I did not have loaded on my computer, so when we first started it the text was completely illegible. Fortunately, because he had used the master properly I was able to go into it and change the font, and in a matter of seconds had him up and running. We did it so quickly that very few people even knew there was an issue, and his presentation went off without a hitch.

5. Spell check – Look, it’s not that hard, check your spelling. Click on Tools -> Spell check, or just hit F7. This should catch the most obvious errors. Ironically, it seems like it’s the folks that are the most adamant about being technically adept that always seem to forget this part.

6. Don’t copy images from websites – Besides the obvious copyright issues, this is almost always a bad idea. Think about it, people like myself go to a fair amount of trouble to make sure website images are as light as possible, meaning we will lower the quality of the image to make the file size as small as we can get it. Inevitably, when you place this image in your presentation it will not be large enough, so you stretch it out. As these are almost always raster images (made up of little squares called pixels), when you enlarge them you literally pull the image apart. In short, they end up looking like crap.

Microsoft makes a large amount of images and clip art available for your use for free, and it’s easy to use. These are usually in a .wmf file format, which is a vector image (meaning they are mathematically calculated, so they look good no matter how large you make them). Just go to the main menu, and select ‘Insert -> Clip art‘, and if you have an Internet connection you can download to your heart’s content. If you’re looking for something that will set your presentation above the rest there is a very comprehensive list of places to get free stock photos at the Photoshop Tutorials Blog, definitely worth checking out.

7. Remember your audience – It’s easy to get very involved with what you do, and what you want to talk about, and create your presentation wearing blinkers. It’s ironic that it is usually the most enthusiastic people that have the hardest time with this. Before you finish your presentation take a couple of mental steps back, and think about who will be there, and what they might be expecting from your talk or from the meeting or seminar in general. Make sure you approach this keeping your audience’s expectations in mind, this will help you to focus your presentation.

8. Stay on point, control your audience – Likely one of three things will happen when you give your presentation:

  1. No one will participate. This is the most common, but it’s not the end of the world. Stay relaxed, pick a couple of people that seem interested and ask a couple of questions. Sometimes this is all it takes to liven things up a bit
  2. Your audience no longer focuses on you, and break into their own conversations. This is bad, you need to stay on top and act quickly. If you see that you audience is getting distracted specifically address someone who’s talking by looking directly at them and saying ‘Is there a question?’. Try to stay calm, don’t raise your voice or get angry. A slight smile may help, if you can muster it. Once you have everyone’s attention go back to your presentation.
  3. Your audience gets engaged and wants to participate. This is good, but you still need to stay in control. Keep the conversation on point, or your audience may start to stray. If someone asks you a question that’s not on topic suggest that you discuss it after the presentation. Stay aware of side conversations, and bring those people back into the main conversation with something like ‘You’re welcome to share any thoughts you have on this’.

Don’t be afraid to address members of your audience, either to get them to interact or to get them to pay attention. As long as you keep your temperament even and controlled you’ll be just fine.

Written by David Canfield of Symplebyte.

There are plenty of places on the web where experts can get detailed, highly technical information on how to use computers. What’s really hard to find is simple information for everyone else. Symplebyte.com is designed for everyone else www.symplebyte.com


Published On: 20th Apr 2009

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  1. Nice article, very helpful! Thank you.

    Rachel 10 Mar at 3:41 pm
  2. i found this website extremely helpful, i had to make a marketing powerpoint for school and i got the highest mark in the class! Thank you!!!!

    Olivia Walker 2 May at 7:51 pm
  3. Good site … too bad Microsoft doesn’t have a “Steve Jobs” … waaaaay too often they complicate things and miss the obvious. Example, try moving an imaage on a Slide Master so it’s always on top i.e. a logo — something that would seem easy & simple — seems you need to use ActiveX controls?? What the? something so basic becomes stupidly complex. Why not just a check box – keep object on top, or something like that. Wish they made Apple Keynote for Windows.

    dezign 14 May at 6:15 pm
  4. This was a great read! Are you sure I can’t throw water on them when they talk during my presentation? Thanks for the tips!

    National Trainer 17 Nov at 3:13 am
  5. Great ideas for improving PPP skills. Excellent for beginners and refreshing to the veterans.

    alaba olusemore 31 Aug at 12:04 am
  6. This is a very helpful article and I really enjoyed reading this piece. Clip art is usually a big no-no in PP because it is basic. You can put a little twist on your clipart. I’ve included an article showing you how to make your presentation pop with remixed art.

    Ami 6 Dec at 5:50 am
  7. its really vry helpfulness of urs that u did this job i do input my music files in my ppt but it do nt wrked on onother computer……….i ws worried…..thnx fr the tip DAVID…..

    Prayukta Sinha 17 Jun at 10:04 am
  8. FYI: On step #7, I assume the author meant “blinders”, not “blinkers”?

    John Suit 4 May at 5:52 pm
  9. Hallow guys:
    Education does not only mean to just learning, it is key for us to get achievement as well anywhere

    Alayna 29 Aug at 11:27 am