10 PowerPoint conventions ready for retirement


What makes a professional presentation “old school”? Help me build the list…

I’ve attended a few professional conferences over the last several months and have noticed a high number of presentations that are (by my own assessment) old school. I mean they include outdated stylistic conventions, which (I believe) diminish the effectiveness and undermine the appeal of the presenter’s message.

By way of analogy: If you look back at TV shows or movies from previous decades, you’ll notice that cinematography has changed over the years. I’m not much of a TV/movie buff, but even I can see the differences in camera angle shifts, visual cuts, and editing sophistication between, say, the old 1960’s Batman and Robin TV show and the newest Gotham series. Creative adaptation, changing zeitgeists, and new technologies have encouraged the evolution of visual styles, growth of new tropes, and creation of different cinematographic metaphors. The point is simply that the “grammar” of cinematography has matured over time, and it’s important for today’s directors to, at least, recognize the contemporary grammar of cinema (whether or not they adhere to it).

What’s the point of the analogy? The “grammar” of professional presentations—at least the most successful ones—has also evolved. (Check out the best TED Talks as some good examples.) Unfortunately, it seems that most presenters at typical professional conferences, in academic classrooms, or at business meetings haven’t gotten the memo.

Style Conventions

Of course, there are plenty of sites that offer general advice about professional presentations and PowerPoint slides. However, most of these articles recommend ways to implement “old school” conventions more effectively. (This is often good advice, although not very novel.)  So, let’s create a list of stylistic recommendations for the modern day that extend beyond the conventional advice.

I hope to eventually identify a full set of usage best practices for visual and linguistic composition in modern presentations. For now, let’s start by identifying some conventions in slideshow presentations that ought to be retired. Why start with slideshows (e.g., PowerPoints)? Because slides are often the most tangible—and possibly the most frequently egregious—part of these presentations.

(In the process of developing this so-called “manual of style,” it’s important to acknowledge that these recommendations represent a general “grammar,” which may sometimes be broken for effect. But you’ve gotta learn the rules before you can break ’em effectively!)

The (Initial) List…

In no particular order, here’s the initial list of presentation style conventions that, generally speaking, ought to be retired. Keep in mind: (1) there are always exceptions to the rules, and  (2) this discussion is specifically about face-to-face presentations (not print-outs of PowerPoint slides, for example).

  1. Background graphics: What benefit does the background possibly offer? At best, it takes up screen real estate; at worst, it’s distracting and erodes the clarity of your text, images, and overall message. You can probably get away with using an appropriate  background on the first, last, and title slides. But on the internal content slides—delete it!
  2. White or light-colored backgrounds: Why blind everyone with the bright background on the projector screen? Make the background black, so it disappears. The visual elements that stand out (e.g., bright white colors), should be reserved for the main areas of conceptual focus (e.g., your key words or images). Use bright or white backgrounds for effect, but not as the standard.
  3. Logo overuse: Sticking your company logo on every slide isn’t going to garner additional business. The quality of your presentation is the best marketing. Highlight your name, company, and other branding elements on specifically relevant slides (e.g., first and last), and remove those distractions otherwise.
  4. Bulleted list overuse: Slide-after-slide of bulleted lists may not have ever been “in style,” but I think this is becoming increasingly less tolerated (and rightly so). Can decent slide presentations have some slides with bullets? Yes, although images, graphs, and multimedia are often more effective; plus, some variation between each slide is critical. Limit the number of slides made-up of bullets, and follow all of the traditional advice about limiting the amount of text on slides and using proper fonts.
  5. De facto slide numbers: Generally speaking, I think slide numbers fall into the same category as logos and background graphics: They take up space and create distractions without adding much. I suppose some special cases could benefit from slide numbers (for instance, to navigate to a particular slide during Q&A), but you can also accomplish such outcomes in other, better ways. So, generally speaking, remove the slide numbers—along with the entire distracting footer, if possible.
  6. Multi-line bullets: As said above, bullets are sometimes useful, but when you use them, try to keep each one to a single line. This helps with the visual chunking and forces you to be more succinct.
  7. Default layouts: The default layout settings on PowerPoint are an eyesore create swaths of white space around the edges of slides, on the hanging indents of bullets, and in-between lines of text. Similarly the default content containers for text and titles encourage presenters to insert ugly text, use unnecessary titles, and omit more visually effective and interesting elements. Whenever I create slides, I start by turning off the default layouts. Use text-boxes, shapes, and images to create content elements where you need them.
  8. De facto slide titles: Slide titles sometimes have a purpose, but most of the time they simply state the obvious, take up space, and create distraction. (Even worse are unnecessary slide titles that span multiple lines!)  If you actually need a title, include it, but make it short and relevant. Otherwise, why insert the unnecessary label?
  9. Introductory “agenda” slides: Your presentation is 20 minutes long… do you really need an agenda to list every single slide you’re about to present? I think this convention must come from misinterpreting the old adage “tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, and then tell ’em what you told ’em.” Sure, it’s often useful to start talks by giving a one sentence summary of your thesis, then explaining the finer points of your argument, and finishing with a paraphrased summary and interpretation of your key points. However, this approach does not mean that it’s useful to include a table of contents at the beginning of your talk.
  10. False dichotomy between bad animations or blind avoidance of them: I use slide transitions and animations all the time. They’re fantastic when used purposefully. Generally, old-school presentations seem to fall into one of two categories, when it comes to motion graphics: Either they eschew all transitions and animations or they misuse/overuse them. Both are poor choices. Subtle movement can create emphasis and help show relationships between concepts; it can create visual interest and clarity. Motion effects don’t have to be an either-or decision (i.e., “use them badly or avoid them altogether”); there is a very effective middle ground where motion effects add significantly to your presentation.

What stylistic conventions do you think are old school? What do you wish people would stop doing in their professional talks?


  1. 22 April 2015    

    You hit on some interesting things here and I agree with most of what you write… Item 4 in the list reminds me of an old Army COL who stated “its not the slides you need to worry about, it’s the bullets that’ll kill your presentation”. I think many of the items in your list are dependent on the purpose of the presentation. For example, a short product pitch will be quite a bit different from an hour long class. In the longer presentation, especially if the presentation is projected and printed, something like slide numbers may be much more acceptable.

    The main area of disagreement relates to item 2 of your list (white or light-colored background). When I first started creating PowerPoint presentations, I preferred a dark background with a lighter text. I often received feedback that it would be a better presentation if I would move to a light background with darker text. To that end, I’ve compiled a few links over the years that discuss things like the psychology of presentations, the theory of color, and other presentation guidelines. This was mostly done a few years ago in an attempt to figure out which would be better. In the end, it probably comes down to personal preference… but nothing will trump a dynamic speaker with good content. ..

    Here are a few links:

  2. 9 June 2015    

    4) Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books).
    And that is something I believe possible, because premise of
    Martin’s anthology is same as in his epic fantasy series – realism in portraying
    characters of novels. With siege engines you will have to push the
    large wooden structure up to the city walls until the bridge crashes down and then you can swarm in.

  3. Bet's Gravatar Bet
    13 April 2020    

    My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

  4. 1 May 2020    

    Piece of writing writing is also a fun, if you know after
    that you can write or else it is difficult to

  5. 8 May 2020    

    Hi, i think that i saw you visited my site so i got here to
    return the favor?.I’m attempting to to find issues to enhance my site!I suppose its adequate to
    use some of your concepts!!

  6. 12 May 2020    

    Hi! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any trouble with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing
    a few months of hard work due to no back up. Do you have any solutions to protect
    against hackers?

  7. 20 May 2020    

    WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..extra wait .. …

  8. 20 May 2020    

    This site was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something which helped me. Thanks!

  9. 20 May 2020    

    I absolutely love your blog.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you develop this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m trying to create my own personal site and would love to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is named. Cheers!

  10. 20 May 2020    

    I just couldn’t leave your web site before suggesting that I actually enjoyed the usual info an individual supply to your guests? Is going to be again continuously in order to investigate cross-check new posts.

  11. 20 May 2020    

    This post will help the internet visitors for building up new weblog or even a blog from start to end.

  12. 20 May 2020    

    Hi there, I discovered your site by means of Google at the same time as looking for a related subject, your web site came up, it looks great. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  13. 21 May 2020    

    You possibly can submit your resume to ResumeBoomer so that they can send your resume to various employers.

  14. 21 May 2020    

    It’s truly very difficult in this active life to listen news on TV, thus I only use world wide web for that purpose, and take the hottest news.

  15. 21 May 2020    

    Right here is the right site for anybody who wants to find out about this topic. You know so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a subject which has been discussed for ages.

  16. 21 May 2020    

    Outstanding post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more, thanks!

  17. 21 May 2020    

    Great post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more.

  18. 21 May 2020    

    I absolutely loved every little bit of it.

  19. 22 May 2020    

    Enjoyed reading through this, very good stuff, thankyou!

  20. 22 May 2020    

    Hi there everyone, it’s my first pay a quick visit at this web site, and article is in fact fruitful in support of me, keep up posting such articles or reviews.

  21. 22 May 2020    

    I have learn several excellent stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how so much effort you put to create such a fantastic informative web site.

  22. 22 May 2020    

    Does your site have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to send you an email. I’ve got some suggestions for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

  23. 22 May 2020    

    I loved this post! i try to read your blog fairly often, and you’re always coming out with some great stuff. I embedded this on my facebook, and my followers adored it. I really admire the great work 🙂

  24. 22 May 2020    

    I am curious to find out what blog system you’re working with? I’m experiencing some minor security problems with my latest site and I would like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any solutions?

  25. 25 May 2020    

    Great, google took me stright here. thanks btw for info. Cheers!

  26. 25 May 2020    

    Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Because I was happy to discover how well-designed and fun to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.

  27. 25 May 2020    

    I want to express my thanks to this writer just for rescuing me from this particular scenario. Just after looking out throughout the internet and obtaining solutions which were not productive, I assumed my life was gone. Living without the approaches to the problems you have fixed through your website is a crucial case, as well as ones that could have in a wrong way damaged my career if I hadn’t discovered your web page. Your training and kindness in taking care of everything was helpful. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I had not encountered such a thing like this. I’m able to at this time look ahead to my future. Thanks for your time very much for your high quality and result oriented help. I won’t be reluctant to suggest your blog post to anyone who would like direction about this subject matter.

  28. 25 May 2020    

    Hi to every body, it’s my first pay a visit of this blog; this blog includes remarkable and actually fine material in favor of readers.

  29. 25 May 2020    

    Wow, this piece of writing is nice, my sister is analyzing such things, so I am going to convey her.

  30. 25 May 2020    

    I think the admin of this website is actually working hard in support of his web site, since here every stuff is quality based material.

  31. 25 May 2020    

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you actually realize what you are speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Please also visit my web site =). We may have a link alternate arrangement between us

  32. 25 May 2020    

    Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Very helpful information specifically the last part :) I care for such information a lot. I was seeking this particular information for a very long time. Thank you and good luck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *