6 Common Presentation Mistakes Illustrated, Cartoon Collaboration with Stephanie Evergreen

Anyone can totally trash a boring bullet-point laden presentation slide deck. But it takes someone special to turn that boring slide deck into something sleek and noteworthy. Stephanie Evergreen, who led AEA’s potent presentations initiative, is one of those special people.

I asked Stephanie about some of the common mistakes she sees on a regular basis when working with slide decks and about the steps presenters should take to fix the mistakes.  Her answers sparked this post.


About the Illustrations

Stephanie gets all the credit for the mistakes and solutions, the cartoons are my contribution.

Before we get to the cartoons, I want to extend a big THANK YOU to everyone who endorsed me on LinkedIn following last week’s post. Your encouragement keeps me cartooning!

A few notes:

  • If you like the post, write a comment and let me know.
  • Share it with colleagues. Seeing people sharing my cartoons inspires me to create more cartoons.
  • Are there any other common presentation mistakes that bug you? Let us know in the comments.
  • Please feel free to use my cartoons in presentations, training materials, etc.


Presentation mistake: Slides crammed full of text.

This is a presentation not a word find puzzle

Stephanie’s solution: Edit like a boss and save the real content for what comes out of your mouth. Limit slide text to keywords.


Presentation mistake: Slides with background textures

Wood grain texture only acceptable for lumberjacks

Stephanie’s solution: The safest bet is a solid background – either very light or very dark. Slide backgrounds are not wallpaper – they should be used to set a mood.


Presentation mistake: Using cliche images

Generic slide seems novel to me

Stephanie’s solution: Dig deeper to get beyond the cliche. Think about real life metaphors that might apply. Pull together a few people from around the coffee machine and ask them what visuals come to mind when you say a few keywords about your topic.


Presentation mistake: Images that conflict with the content

Sad kitty and mortality

Stephanie’s solution: Unless you are intentionally trying to confuse people, match the mood of the image to the content of the presentation. If you can’t find anything that works, it’s better to use no image at all.


Presentation mistake: Highlighter-bright colors

I love brightness

Stephanie’s solution: The spirit of your favorite bright color can still live on – just add more gray to the mix so it is darker and less irritating to corneas. When you see the slider bar that lets you adjust the color, drag it down into the dark range.


Presentation mistake: Tons of references

I added the references to make my BS seem well researched

Stephanie’s solution: Raise your right hand and repeat after me: I will cut the references from my slides and paste them into a handout.


Other common mistakes

What other presentation mistakes do you see on a regular basis?  Let us know in the comments and maybe you’ll spark a new cartoon.

Update 1: Presentation Mistake: Dataviz for the sake of Dataviz

This update based on Isaac Castillo’s comment below.

Isaac’s guidance:  If it takes more than 15 seconds for a person to look at your slide to understand your data viz message, then your message is not clear.  Simplify it, make it a handout, or chunk it out into multiple graphics (each one with a simple message).


  1. Stephanie Evergreen on May 14, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Dude thank you! This is like a bit of therapy for me, turning the things most annoying into something positive and funny. You crack me up!

    • Chris Lysy on May 14, 2013 at 9:16 am

      Thank you for all the tips and solutions 🙂

  2. Susan Kistler on May 14, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Love the cartoons! And, Stephanie always comes with great advice.

    Two ideas for references if you are going to distribute your deck (1) add them to a slide at the very end that is AFTER your culminating slide that is seen when you give your presentation, and/or (2) put them in the notes field. Increasingly, people are distributing just slide decks often with extensive text in the notes that covers their key points. Basically, if you are going to make amazing visually-focused decks (please do… please please do…), either don’t distribute them (as Stephanie notes, say what is most important), or if you do distribute them, then ensure that they actually have the content accessible some how.

    You rock.

    • Chris Lysy on May 14, 2013 at 9:19 am

      Thanks Susan,

      That’s a good point. Another option would be to write a blog post along side your presentation. Then when it comes time to distribute, distribute the link to your blog post and not the out of context slide deck.

      Oh, and for anyone planning to use any of my cartoons. The only attribution I personally request is the link to my site that appears in each cartoon.

  3. Eden Segal on May 14, 2013 at 11:44 am

    My new favorite way to pair the image with the content is to tell Chris what I will be presenting and -voila!- an image that says just what I want appears in my inbox and provides lasting recognition of my message. (Admittedly my old favorite was to collect relevant internet images).

    Yay for no neon! If I have to close my eyes, what’s the purpose of a slide deck?

    • Chris Lysy on May 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      It’s totally like magic.

  4. Isaac Castillo on May 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    One more to add, although I’m not sure this warrants an additional illustration…..

    Data visualization graphics for the sake of data viz. This is related/similar to the ‘slides crammed with text’.

    More and more, people are throwing up data viz slides to be ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ – but frequently these slides contain so much information that the point is lost, or audience members spend time trying to take it all in and stop listening to the presenter. Data viz is great, but only if it helps communicate a data related concept. And data viz for presentations/slides is much harder to do well than for webpages or printed documents.

    Some good guidance: If it takes more than 15 seconds for a person to look at your slide to understand your data viz message, then your message is not clear. Simplify it, make it a handout, or chunk it out into multiple graphics (each one with a simple message).


    • Chris Lysy on May 14, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      I completely disagree Isaac!

      It totally warrants an additional illustration. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  5. Sheila B Robinson on May 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Wow, Chris, you totally nailed these ideas with cartoons! These are absolutely some of your best work! I can’t wait to share them, except for the fact that I’ll need to find some diplomatic way to do this. I might have to surreptitiously print out a copy of the cartoons and leave them anonymously on someone’s office chair after hours!

    One of my big PPT pet peeves is the printed slides I get from presenters – you know, the 3 up with the lines on the right side. Makes my blood boil. I want to scream “Either print the slides large enough so I can read them, or put the text into a handout I CAN read. I’m a grown-up and I know to bring my own notebook (or electronic device) for taking notes! Or better yet, don’t print them at all, but email them to me with the slides large and readable.” 🙂

    • Chris Lysy on May 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Thanks Sheila 🙂

  6. Teri Behrens on May 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Great advice, well-presented!

    • Chris Lysy on May 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Thanks Teri 🙂

  7. Hugh Leon on June 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I completely agree with you and I have to admit, that’s quite a few hell of drawings. Loved the cartoons. And coming to the topic, slides should not have more than 5-6 lines of content, or else everthing would look messed up. I use clean and elegant templates from http://slidehunter.com/powerpoint-templates/, to help me out.

  8. raising money for breast cancer walk on January 12, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Your medical doctor will examine you and be converted into cancerous ones.
    Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, director of nutrition you may have already invaded the fatty tissue
    acts like an X or 10 years later. You should dye your hair, start at Facing Our Risk of Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention Trial.

    Chemotherapy is considered systemic therapy as prescribed, whether
    or not we know it can be taken literally.

  9. Anonymous on June 7, 2015 at 10:52 am