Yet it is a common experience to encounter a PowerPoint presentation which detracts from the subject matter. Table 1 offers a short list of presentation errors found all too frequently. This article states the obvious, that the presentation graphics should be a way of focusing the audience's attention on the subject matter, and offers some simple specifics on the ways to use the tools of PowerPoint to hold the attention of the people you are talking to.

Table 1. Commonly encountered PowerPoint presentation errors






There is no difference between the CG presentation and what could be done with a series of photographic slides on the same subject


Gee Whiz

The presenter uses CG effects that distract from the message rather than focus attention on it



Slides with far too much information are presented


Lost in eSpace

Illustrations, usually videos, not working' during the presentation


I can, therefore I will

Undisciplined use of extraneous material, photos of the kids etc., irrelevant to the subject



Effects such as animations and transitions introduced at random instead of in a planned way, to hold the attention.

The visual cortex is many times larger than the auditory cortex so it is no surprise that visual events command much more attention than words. If you can tell the story on the screen it is much more powerful. Conversely, if the story you are telling on the screen conflicts with or is not synchronized with what you are saying, you will lose your audience. They will be looking at what is on the screen, reading your slide to the end and not attending to what you are saying. This error (Type 1) is the most common; all the points you wish to make in the presentation are put up on the same slide. The audience is reading to bullet point #7 while you are still expounding #1. The simplest form of animation in PowerPoint ensures that the points come up on the screen when you, the presenter, are ready for them. Not to do this, weakens your presentation.

Another all-too-common error is the busy slide (Type 3). Sometimes the presenter even draws attention to the overload by saying "This is a busy slide; I just want you to look at column 6". If that is truly the case why does he show columns 1-5 and 7-12? Just show the information you want the audience to focus on. Sometimes the "slide" is complicated by necessity and all the information must be conveyed. Then you should use the PowerPoint techniques of animation and transition to introduce manageable amounts of information and "build up" the slide until it is all there. Your audience will be able to keep pace with you during this process.

Most of the other common errors result from undisciplined use of CG techniques by presenters who have forgotten that they are there to educate, not to demonstrate PowerPoint virtuosity. The Type 4 error, losing the video, is different and is totally preventable. When you add a static illustration (e.g. X-ray image) to the presentation, that image is incorporated into the PowerPoint file. But video files are not incorporated. Instead the PowerPoint file contains a reference address to find the video file on the computer on which the presentation is being crafted. When you move the presentation file to a new computer, the video file is left behind. When your presentation reaches the point where it calls for the video, it looks for a non-existent file in a non-existent location in the computer system being used by the conference. This embarrassment can be avoided by using the "Pack-and-Go" feature of the PowerPoint programme. What this does is to make a totally new folder with all the audio-visual features packed' into it, then recreates all the addressing so that the presentation file requests AV material from the new folder, not the home computer. You take the folder to the conference, install it on the AV system and all will be well. (Test it anyway!).

You cannot gain confidence using PowerPoint by reading an article, so I have prepared a simple workshop to illustrate the points I want to make and give you an opportunity to practice.

pptDownload the workshop file Clough_COA_Focus.ppt

Please open this link, then copy the file to your own computer and open it in PowerPoint. The instructions for the workshop are given below and in the notes window of the programme. The workshop should be done with the file displayed in the "Normal View" showing the slide, the text and the notes windows. You will need know how to switch to other views, such as the "Slide Show View" and back again. This workshop is for people who have used PowerPoint a few times and assumes you know how to copy and paste, how to save and open PowerPoint files, use dialog boxes, set the format of a slide, change the fonts etc. The workshop file was designed to be presented in front of an audience but I have enlarged the notes so that it should be understandable on its own. It emphasizes the use of animation and transitions to keep the audience's attention where you, the presenter, want it to be focused.

"Focus Workshop" Instructions
Note: the details of the PowerPoint programme may differ slightly depending on whether you are using an old or a new version and a Windows or a Mac computer. I used Office 2000 on a Windows XP machine

  • Slide 2: Save this presentation under a new name so the original is preserved for reference
    Note 2: Don't click on the save icon as that will save under the same name. Use File/Save As

  • Slide 3: Setting background; make it restful; can use a Design Templates (cookie cutter approach is OK)
    Note 3: To set your own background click Format/Background. Click on dropdown window in Background Fill. Select More Colors. Select color from the palette. Click on Apply to All

  • Slides 3 - 8: To copy a slide
    Select the slide you wish to copy (in the text window)
    - Slide text goes black
    Press Control C together to copy the slide
    - Deselect by clicking away
    - Place cursor where you wish to copy the slide. Usually at the end of this slide
    Press Control V to paste copy into sequence
    Note 4: To copy a whole slide click on the numbered slide icon in the text window. This selects the whole slide even though the illustrations etc aren't shown in the text window
    Hit Control C to copy to the clipboard. Click elsewhere to deselect
    Move cursor to the end of the slide and click. This is where the new copy will be inserted
    Hit Control V to paste the copy into the sequence

  • Slide 9: Bullet Points
    - Headings for the point you are making
    - Should be short - cue to what you want to say
    - Can (often should) be animated

  • Slide 10: Preset Animation
    - Type the bullet points
    - Make sure the text box remains selected
    - Open Slide Show Menu
    - Select Preset Animation
    - Select "Appear" (1st level animation only)
    - Show the slide (to yourself) to check the animation works
    Note 10: Click on the text (in the slide display window) to make sure the text box is selected
    Open Slide Show/Preset Animation
    Select "Appear"
    Do this with the current slide (slide 10)

  • Slide 11: Multilevel Bullet Points
    - Points may be headings, subheadings or sub-subheadings (5 levels in all)
    - Each level may be animated separately
    - Or all the subheads can appear at the same time as the main heading
    Note 11: Animating different levels. Select Slide Show Menu/Custom Animation. Select Text 2 checkbox. Click on Effects tab. Select Appear. Select "Grouped by 3rd" to determine level of animation. Try the effect with preview. Change it to "Grouped by 1st" to see which you prefer. Show the slide.
    With Custom animation there is an option to dim the bullet points you have already shown to keep the audience focused on what you are currently presenting.

  • Slide 12: Pro and Con
    - Use Slide layout for 2 column text
    - Put pro points in one box
    - Can be animated if the points are consecutive
    - Put con points in the other
    - If pro and con points should be together use slide transitions not animations
    Note 12: If you wish to show contrasting Pro and Con points together use Slide transitions in the following way:
    1. Copy this slide twice to make three slides in all. 2. In the first one, delete all the bullet points 3. In the second one delete the last pair of points. 4. Leave all the points in the third slide. 5. Run the show from the first Pro & Con slide to see the effect
    To animate this slide so that all the "pro" points are shown first, then the "con" (second box) points, do the following (on the unchanged last slide copy): 1. Select the first box by clicking near the text inside the text box. 2. Click on Slide Show - Preset Animation - Appear. 3. Repeat steps 1 & 2 for the second text box 4. Show the slide to check the effect

  • Slide 13: Add an illustration
    Note 13: Open Insert Menu. Hover on Picture. Click on From File. Browse to an image file on your computer. Click Insert. Re-size image by dragging corner box. Re-position image by dragging the whole image

  • Slide 14: Bullet Points with Illustrations
    Note 14: To hold the audience's attention to this slide you use transitions not animation. Make sure there is no animation. Make three copies of the slide. In the first one delete the 2nd and 3rd bullet points and 2nd and 3rd images. In the second slide delete the last point and the last image. Go back to the first slide and show the sequence. If you would prefer text and image to appear separately you have to make six slides. If you wish, you could also delete the images already shown to keep attention on the one relating to the bullet point

  • Slide 15: Make a diagram
    Note 15: Blocks are made by selecting rectangles or ovals and typing inside them. Arrows are from autoshapes. Move the blocks and arrows around to make the diagram more attractive. Arrows can be elongated or rotated. Alter the sizes and the fill colours of the blocks and arrows. Text format can also be changed by selecting the text. Once the finished diagram looks right make three copies. Delete objects so that first slide has only the ready box. Second slide has Ready arrow - Aim and last slide has the whole diagram. Use wipe transitions to animate the diagram