PowerPoint: How to avoid disempowering yourself — and others!

I wrote this blog on June 29, 2009.


I don’t believe any of it any longer, having read Cliff Atkinson’s wonderful book, Beyond Bullet Points.


I’ll put that in another blog. For now, here are SOME salutary warnings… but it still won’t work!


See: https://beyondbulletpoints.com/


PowerPoint: How to Avoid Disempowering Yourself — and others!



The other day we abandoned the shed to the rats, the python and the floods and drove to the University at the Gold Coast. I was a bit early for my lecture so I enjoyed listening to the students making their presentations about a planning project.


They were sophisticated postgraduate students and very articulate. Great research and fine ideas.


But, oh, the PowerPoints!


In my new book, SpeakOut: a Step-by-step Guide to SpeakOuts and Community Workshops (see www.speakoutplanning.com), released by Earthscan last month, my co-author Wiwik Bunjamin-Mau and I dedicate part of a chapter to this issue because it’s such a massive problem in community engagement.


It’s bad enough in professional forums to have people reading long lists of bullet points or making the audience plow through dense text. But in community meetings, this can be the kiss of death. It can bring an otherwise lively and thoughtful event to a dead stop.


What are we to do to liberate this technology?


It’s very helpful and handy to have the handouts and the various features PowerPoint offers. I’m not debating that. It’s about trying to keep it straightforward and simple and interesting.


And not having every single slide “badged” with a corporate logo and a title that’s endlessly repeated. Blessedly, the features of flying wedges of text have now pretty much disappeared. But the dreary bullet points continue.


I suggest that if you are using PowerPoint, do not override the recommended font size unless you are making the font larger. For example, for a slide with a few major bullet points, PowerPoint suggests 32 point for the text and 44 point for the title.


For one with more detail, the recommended point size for the text is still 28 point.


I also suggest that you keep the number of words to a limit and use the opportunity provided by the software to make handouts for distribution to workshop participants. That way they can read along and make notes for their own use.


There are, fortunately, many excellent books to help ensure that your presentations (and especially those by technical `experts’) are appropriate for workshop and meeting audiences and participants.


Presentations for Dummies (2004) by Malcolm Kushner is an excellent start, as is Brilliant Presentation by Richard Hall (2007). Kushner has a particularly valuable section called `Avoiding Common Mistakes with PowerPoint’ (pages 235-243).


I have summarised below some important pointers from both of these books:



  • Follow the ‘4 by 4″² rule: no more than 4 lines and 4 words to a line.
  • Maximum: 6 words per 6 lines.
  • Make the ending look good.
  • Be careful that sounds and transitions don’t become annoying.
  • Check carefully for misspelled words.
  • Be careful to talk about what’s on the slide and not something else.
  • Write a contents page to begin with.
  • Make a heading for every slide.
  • Use Notes pages for your own notes (do not use the PowerPoint as the speaker’s notes).
  • Consider using no bullets at all.
  • Remember to practice beforehand.



  • Don’t use too much text.
  • Don’t over-emphasize your logo.
  • Don’t mix different types of clip-art.
  • Don’t use too many colours.
  • Don’t emphasize everything.
  • Don’t `prettify’ without a purpose.
  • Avoid including too much information per slide.
  • Avoid too many special effects.
  • Don’t read slides out word for word.
  • Don’t become obsessed with the pictorial side of things.
  • Avoid large slabs of text.
  • Not more than 5 bullet points or 30 words total per slide.
  • Do not use sub-headings or sub-bullets.
  • Avoid animations, transitions and sound without expert backup.
  • Avoid complex charts (best to have more charts than one complex one).
  • Avoid animations, transitions and sound without expert backup.


Please can we start a conversation about this? I need support in my quest to liberate PowerPoint in community settings.


I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Am I being too harsh here? Is there more to life than the “rules” of presentation?


Please respond!




Atkinson, Max (2005). Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches & Presentations, Oxfor University Press, Oxford and New York.


Aktinson, Cliff (2005). Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire.



Hall, R. (2007). Brilliant Presentation: What the Best Presenters Know, Say and Do, Pearson Education, Harlow, UK


Kushner, M. (2004). `Mastering the power of PowerPoint’, in Presentation for Dummies, Wiley, New York