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Getting the best out of PowerPoint series - part 1: five mistakes to avoid when building your PowerPoint presentation

How many of us have sat through presentations that were memorable because they were horribly designed?

Despite the number of hours spent on preparation, there are a few traps that people fall into when creating presentations. These mistakes take what could be a very good presentation and send it downhill - fast!

The key is to know what these potential pitfalls are and do the opposite! Focus on these five areas, and you'll be in good shape.

The text is long, and the fonts are wrong

When slides are overloaded with text, they become difficult to read and you will lose the audience's attention. Instead of cramming in as much information as possible, focus on highlighting the key points. Use bullet points sparingly and opt for short and concise phrases instead of full sentences. It's good practice to use visuals for breaking up the text. Make sure they are high quality, not pixelated or stretched.

Microsoft has a long list of fonts available in their library. Although these are fun and can be unique offerings, it's best to stick to fonts that are easily readable by all ages. Settle on just a couple of fonts to use throughout your presentation. Decide on one font and size for all your headings, and another for your main text.

Don't forget to size your font according to your audience. Consider their age and how far back they will be from the presentation screen. A good rule of thumb to follow is to make the font size half the age of the oldest person in your audience. For example, if the oldest member in the audience is aged 60, the font size should be no less than 30 points. Viewability needs to be considered as well. Will it be displayed on a large screen at a conference, on a smaller screen in a room, or via a webinar? This is where a clean font is important, especially when slides will be distributed in print format.

The colors are all over the place

There's a fine line when using color to add interest - a presentation with too many colors becomes difficult to follow.

Instead, stick to company-branded colors with maybe one or two subtle accents. Be careful to avoid excessively light or dark colors - light colors can be difficult to read on a screen, while dark colors can make the text seem blurry. If you must use very light or dark colors, use them sparingly and pair them with an opposite color (light with dark or dark with light) to create contrast.

Using black for your text and white background is always a good and clean-looking option. You can then use your branded color palette as accent colors. Just remember to incorporate the same colors throughout your presentation.

Transitions that look like a 90s desktop screensaver

Used sparingly, transitions and animations can add some much-needed visual interest to your presentation. It's important to consider where a transition or animation will give you the most value, how to match it with the style and theme, and the main points of your topic.

Elaborate transitions are good for closing one section and moving on to the next. Subtle, minimal transitions, on the other hand, are better suited for going from one slide to another within the same section. Do not dive into the rabbit hole by filling your slide with quirky animations. These often lessen the level of professionalism your presentation conveys and pulls the focus away from the real message.

The template is the focal point

All too often, people rely on the default templates that compete with, and detract from, the content. These templates may be bland or may be too busy, but they don't enhance the content. Instead, create a simple template that provides a foundation for the content, but without overwhelming it.

When designing your presentation, less is more, and consistency is key. Think of why memes are such a big success: the fonts are simple and readable, the image explains the context, and the combination of colors, text, and imagery is memorable enough on its own.

Your design should be appropriate for the crowd. Your branding should be noticeable but not distract the audience from your key messages.

The visuals are unprofessional, and the links are broken

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but poor visuals can derail your presentation. Using pixelated and watermarked images is an instant turn-off for the audience.

Always choose images that are crisp, clear, and convey your message with very little explanation. Be sure when selecting images that they are sourced legally, and free from any watermarks.

This also applies to any video clips you insert into your slides. Videos that are poorly edited or have sound quality issues disrupt the flow of your presentation and reflect badly on you and your company. An "Error 404: Not Found" looks especially bad if you're opening a link as part of your presentation. Including links to articles and referencing websites gives your audience more context while providing them with additional resources to look at after the presentation. Before you present, make sure all the links are working properly and are up to date.

These pointers might not guarantee success on their own, but they will help you to avoid that sinking feeling when you realize you are the one responsible for the PowerPoint 'fail' everyone will remember.

In part 2, we'll look at some additional tips to make the slides, and the delivery, really shine.