Death By PowerPoint: The Shotgun Slide

I’ve survived many life threatening encounters with PowerPoint.  In the early days you might have even charged me for irresponsible use of this powerful but dangerous tool.  I apologize now for any damage I may have caused.  To atone for my sins, I hope to pass on helpful tips to you for your next presentation.  Today I’ll show you eight ways to avoid inflicting harm to your friends and co-workers that can result from the “Shotgun Slide.”

Anatomy of The Shotgun Slide

Check out this slide.  It’s like a shotgun of information delivered at point blank range.  Blam!


If you are in the audience and 20 slides into an hour long presentation and this slide goes up, what are you thinking?

“Wow, that’s a lot of text.”

“I can’t read that.”

“The presenter must have discovered the font button”

 “What’s for lunch?”

You are thinking about anything but the information the speaker is trying to convey.  Sad to say, but I’ve seen lots of this sort of thing over the years.  Instead of helping get the point across, the slide shuts down the audience.  Face it, the only one who will read that slide is the person who made it.

Remember that the goal of your presentation is to communicate.  And PowerPoint is simply a tool to do that.  What you’re going for here is simple, clean, and clear to keep your audience focused on what you have to say, not on the chart.  The chart is a prop, that’s all.

So here’s the breakdown of why this chart is so bad, and at the end I’ll show you what it could look like after we clean it up a bit.

The Autopsy

  1. Letters too Small. Remember, you are probably projecting the slide to an audience.  If they have to squint to see what’s on the slide, you are already making them work too hard.  Make it easy for them to absorb the information.  Go with size 24 or larger for your bullets.
  1. Fancy Fonts are Hard to Read. Times New Roman may be the default, and it might look good up close, but all the swirls and doo-dads of fancy fonts just clutter the screen and makes things hard to read.  You want to use a sans serif type face (the phrase is a combination of the French word sans, meaning “without” and the Dutch word schreef, meaning the extra doo-dads).  Choose something clean and clear, like Arial.
  1. Inconsistent Styles. Pick a standard font style, size, and color, and stick to it on all your slides.  Changing them around just to show that you can will distract from the information you are trying to convey.  One way to do this is to set up a SlideMaster so that every title, bullet and layout will match.  When you change the master, all the slides adjust automatically.
  1. Bullets Aren’t Bullets. Think of what a real bullet is:  small, hard, to the point; nothing subtle or complex about it.  Make your briefing bullets the same way.  Use short phrases that people can take in and understand at a glance.  Save your complex sentence structures for English class; you’ll impress more if you can keep it concise.
  1. Too Many Bullets. Way too much text to absorb at once; it’s like an impenetrable wall of words.  Nobody wants to read that.  No one will remember what they read if they do.  Keep it to 3-6 bullets per slide so things don’t become cluttered.
  1. Visual Overload. Show this slide all at once and you’re going to lose the audience if they actually try to read it.  To control the flow of information, break it into bite-size pieces by animating the slide.  Have the title and first bullet appear.  Talk about that bullet.  Then click so the next bullet appears, talk about that one, and repeat.  This keeps you on track and everybody in synch.  Nobody gets overwhelmed with a shotgun blast of text.
  1. Distracting Background. There may be some context in which a fake marble background would be effective, but I don’t think this is it.  Backgrounds should make it easier to absorb the information, not more difficult to read.  Look for good color contrast that is easy on the eyes.  Color gradient backgrounds provide a smooth, professional look without cluttering the screen.
  1. Have a Clear Title. Oh, yes, the title.  Just like the bullets, it should be brief and descriptive enough to tell the audience what the slide is about.  If your title starts to look like a complete sentence, it’s too long.  Shoot for three words or fewer.

Here’s what an improved version of the slide with the same information might look like:



The opposite of a shotgun slide - concise, to the point

shotgun 12


You could improve on this more with a helpful graphic or two, but that’s a topic for another time

The Takeaway

Don’t try to impress with your PowerPoint skills; it distracts from what you are trying to say.  Keep it clean and simple, and make it easy for the audience to get your message.

A great free resource to learn the specifics of how to do anything in PowerPoint is at GCF, where you will find an amazing list of topics and clear explanations with step by step text, images, and video.

Comedian Don McMillan captures a lot of these points in a funny video posted over on his YouTube channel Technically Funny; check it out: Life After Death by PowerPoint 2012.

Remember, PowerPoint doesn’t kill presentations; presenters kill presentations.

Question:  Any PowerPoint Rangers out there with more to add?  Do you have an example of a Shotgun Slide that you’d like to share?

Who else would enjoy this post?
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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