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Slides From Hell

Author: Ray Blake

Date Created: August 29th 2005
Last Updated: June 14th 2012

...Continued from Page 1

Exhibit B is another prime candidate for PowerPoint Room 101.

Exhibit B: A visual salad nicoise

There are some good things about this slide. Notice how the title is at the left rather than the top. This sort of variation from slide to slide will help to maintain interest. Also, there is the recognition that linking concepts to
pictures will aid retention.


  1. Look at the big image to the left. It’s a picture of somebody talking, so
    theoretically it matches the concept it is used to represent. However, the man actually looks quite angry, almost as though he is snarling the words. In view of the three things we’re highlighting, this is highly inappropriate. It’s the picture which will linger in memories, not the words.

  2. Notice how contrived some of the links are. Powerful = weightlifter? This is a sign of the designer having three things:

    1. a mistaken belief that here needs to be a picture for everything
    2. a small clipart collection; and
    3. a limited imagination.

  3. The graphical styles here are completely at odds with each other. Stick
    men, cartoon heads and photo-realism shouldn’t be together in the
    same presentation, let alone on one slide.

  4. The typography of the main heading to the left needs work. Having the word ‘new’ all alone on the line strikes a discordant note and inappropriately emphasises newness. Stretching the text box slightly would put matters right.

  5. On the right hand side of the slide, we have what is fundamentally a bullet list, albeit one decorated with pictures. Moving the second picture to the left and putting the word ‘successful’ to its right would break up the tyranny of the vertical list.

  6. If a picture really does paint a thousand words, given that we have put an appropriate picture on the slide, why bother with one word? Could the picture stand alone, particularly since the speaker will be filling out the detail when he speaks?

And while we’re on the subject of clichés (“a thousand words”? For goodness’ sake!) have you seen any of those clipart pictures before? There are clipart clichés as well as verbal clichés. Many of you will remember the days of Word 6 with its tiny clip art collection. For a few years back in the early 90s, that bald man scratching his head and the angry man thumping the table must have been on the screen more often than Carol Vordeman. The next time you use the little stick men in a huddle to represent teamwork, or the flashing lightbulb to symbolise an idea, at least consider whether there is any other way you could depict these concepts.

Of course, there comes a time when the PowerPoint amateur discovers two very dangerous tools indeed. Custom animations and slide transitions have recently been classified by the UN as ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and cited at the War Crimes tribunal in The Hague on more than one occasion. As far as both of these tools are concerned, my advice is the same: pick a style and stick to it. Potentially there is boredom if every slide element skates in from the right or fades in from the background. It might be tiring for each slide to segue into the next using a diagonal wipe. But if the alternative is a dizzying combination of mismatched zooms, shrinks, checkerboard wipes and pirouettes then boredom is a very small price to pay.

In closing, let me reiterate my earlier confession; I have committed all of the
offences I have described, some of them many times. But I like to think of myself now as a reformed character, and if my admissions can show others the way to stay on the straight and narrow, then at least some good will have come from my sorry and sordid story.


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