Death By PowerPoint: The Machine Gun Slide

Death by PowerPoint can take many forms.  The smart people at Microsoft have done a great job of adding infinite ways to make things on your slides bounce, jiggle, fly, sparkle, and make an astonishing variety of noises.  You can even customize!  But in the hands of an irresponsible presenter, there is the potential to batter your audience and defeat your message.  Below, you will find timeless advice on how to protect your audience from the insidious Machine Gun Slide.

Death by powerpoint - the Machine Gun Slide

Lasting Scars from Machine Gun Slides

Possibly one of the worst college classes I ever took was marketing.  I was interested in the topic, but the way the teacher presented the material made me dread going to class.  It was PowerPoint from beginning to end.  The lights would go down, the first slide would come up, and for the next hour, it was endless screeching tires, clattering typewrites, shattering glass, and ringing cash registers every time he clicked the mouse.

Every slide was animated, too.  Letters and images would come floating in from all points of the compass, sometimes fluttering, other times sliding, spinning or exploding onto the screen.  And the one I loved to hate the most was when each individual letter of a long line of text would individually appear, flutter about the screen and finally land neatly in its place.  It was very annoying.

There were transitions between every slide, too.  Slides would dissolve, disappear, pixelate, peal, slide or spin off screen, only to be replaced by the next one, starting the process over again.  We only knew class was over, much to our relief, when we heard the one sound we looked forward to:  the canned applause.  But we weren’t clapping. I got my lowest grade of the term in that class; not surprising.

All that sound and motion did not help the learning process, it detracted from it, made it worse.  We had been disabled by machine gun slides.

So to help you out for your next presentation, here are two Audio tips, two Transition tips, and two Animation tips to make your next presentation far more effective than my marketing class ever was.

Sound Effects

  1. Don’t use them. Period.
  1. Under the Transitions tab in PowerPoint, there is a Sound option button on the right hand side of the screen. Leave it alone.  Really.

Slide Transitions

  1. You don’t need these either. Just don’t.
  1. All right…If you really feel you must, pick one, and use it for every slide without exception. The Cut, Fade, Push, or Wipe might be acceptable.

You want a smooth, distraction-free transition to the next slide.  Stay away from things that rotate, spin, flash, or attempt to be dramatic.  The options labeled “Exciting” and “Dynamic Content” are off limits.

Slide Animations

OK, there is some productive utility here, but tread carefully, and remember that less is more.

  1. The time to use animations is to control how much is on your slide at one time. If you have a list of things you want to talk about, it can be a good idea to show the first thing, talk about it, then click to have the next item appear, etc.  The same applies to images.
  1. In nearly all cases, the rules for slide transitions apply to animating things on your slide. Just have it appear or quickly fade in.  That’s it.  No “growing & turning” or “Fly In.”   And absolutely no “Wheels” or “Bounces.”

Reluctantly, I’ll include this link to GCF where you can learn more about animating, which will help you quickly master what you are looking for.  Just use it responsibly!  I’m trusting you!

The Takeaway

PowerPoint can be a great tool to help you get your message across.  Just remember it is a tool to help your presentation.  It is not the actual presentation – that’s your job.  So keep it simple, and use it to clearly display ideas and concepts without distraction.  Less is usually better.  Put the machine gun slide down and step back.

And what about all that time you saved by not animating and adding “exciting” sound effects and flying pixels?  You can use that time to rehearse.

You’re welcome!

Oh, and one more thing about adding sound to your slides:  Don’t.


Question:  Ever been laid low by a barrage of Machine Gun Slides?  What was it like?

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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