Laura Sicola

By Laura Sicola

Avoiding "Death by PowerPoint"

150 150 Laura Sicola

Avoiding “Death By PowerPoint” in 3 Easy Steps   

“Death by PowerPoint…” This expression is so common that it has practically become a household phrase. PowerPoint… “the deck…” slides… no matter what you call it (or what software you actually use), you probably have a love-hate relationship with it. You understand its importance, but typically, slides are unpleasant to look at, dense and confusing, and distract the audience from whatever the speaker is saying.

But the bigger problem is that, arguably, “death by PowerPoint” is actually a two-part crime; a “murder-suicide,” so to speak. Because in the process, you are boring the audience to death, and killing your own success and reputation at the same time.

So short of abandoning visuals altogether, what’s the solution?

Here are three quick and easy suggestions for how to use slides as an enhancement tool rather than a crutch, to maximize audience engagement, and enhance your reputation as a great public speaker.

  1. Follow the “5×5 Rule”

The point of this rule is to limit the amount of information on any given slide: maximum 5 bullets per slide, with a maximum of 5 words per bullet. This gives you about 25 words per slide, but the 5×5 parameters are an average. You could just as easily have three bullets with eight words, or six bullets averaging 4 words apiece.

This forces you to include nothing but the most critical keywords in your text. So instead of seeing this:

  • As of January 1, 2018, all new vendors will be required to submit appropriate vendor pre-qualification forms before payment processing can begin

your audience would only see this:

  • 1/1/18 – Vendor pre-qualification forms required.

Your original bullet with all of its explanation is what you can use as your talking points. The audience gets the gist from what they briefly scan, then they turn to you for additional information, making you “the expert” rather than just “the soundtrack.”

  1. Sometimes MORE slides ARE better

There’s a commonly-held belief that it’s best to limit the number of slides in your deck. If your slides all look like a page out of the New York Times, then yes, please have the minimal courtesy of having as few of these as possible. But that’s setting the bar really low.

Instead, think of it this way: Rather than have one slide with five bullets on it, requiring you to spend 10 minutes on that single slide, consider giving each point its own slide. Address the single point on each slide using the same minute or two you otherwise would have, and then click to the next slide, and the next.

Doing it this way has two key benefits: First, the frequent slide changes add visual interest and help to maintain people’s attention. Second, the audience is only focusing on the exact point you’re discussing; nothing more, nothing less. That helps them focus their attention and process your message more easily, while also significantly increasing your opportunity to connect with them.

  1. Use a “visual bullseye” 

Sometimes you have to show something that is visually complicated like a spreadsheet, decision tree or process diagram. In these situations try highlighting whatever component you are talking about, letting a yellow arrow pop up and point to it, or a red circle surround it. This draws people’s attention directly to it like a bullseye, and temporarily ignore everything else that surrounds it. Then the arrow or circle can move around the slide with you as you address different components.

Remember that your core job as presenter is to make it as easy as possible for the audience to just “get it.” These simple tips are an easy way to ensure that the audience gets the fullest value from the experience.


Do you have other questions or feedback about how to present with maximum impact? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!




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