Unreadable Slides: The Worst PowerPoint Error of All?

July 10, 2012 | Brendan Cournoyer
Unreadable Slides: The Worst PowerPoint Error of All?

Recently, I came upon a post by “sales heretic” Don Cooper on the “Top Ten PowerPoint Mistakes Salespeople Make.” It’s a good read both because a) he covers common problems that are easily fixable, and b) good PowerPoints are super-important to successful sales presentations – especially as tablets make them more personal and accessible.

The first PowerPoint problem Cooper mentions is how salespeople often fall victim to producing “unreadable slides.” This didn’t jump out at me because it was some unique, ground-breaking perspective; in fact, it was just the opposite. It occurred to me that EVERYONE who writes about PowerPoint best practices highlight readability errors early and often. In fact, I even went back to check my own post on the most common PowerPoint mistakes, and sure enough, three of the five examples pertained to slide readability problems.

There are lots of things that can make your slides “unreadable,” and they affect sales presentations just as much as they do PowerPoints for corporate communications and eLearning. For example:

  • Small font size. Don’t make your audience squint! 28-30pt font seems to be the minimum size most experts recommend.

  • Too much text. Even if your text is sized up nice and big, too much of it on a single slide will still create a lot of extra work for your audience. Stick with shorter points on the slides themselves to keep viewers focused on YOU.

  • Poor spelling and grammar. We have spell check for a reason people! Even in the age of Twitter and text messaging, grammar errors or even intentional misspellings (for example, “u” instead of “you”) may save space, but they have no place in a professional presentation. And even if it was acceptable, that kind of jargon is still distracting and difficult to decipher for most folks.

  • Low contrast. I’m stealing this one from Cooper’s post, but it’s a good point. A fancy background and bright font colors might sound cool, but if you’re not careful, it can all just blend together into one big mess. For readable slides, simpler is often better.

Those are just a couple of common issues that can affect readability in PowerPoint. But whether you’re using a projector, creating voice-enriched videos, or presenting straight from your iPad, errors like these can sink your presentation in a hurry.

What do you think? Are unreadable slides the most common PowerPoint error out there? What are the biggest mistakes you see most often? Sound off below!


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