“Death By PowerPoint” and Other Presentation Pitfalls: A Crash Course in Multimedia Design



What follows is the list of common mistakes I often see students make when they don’t consider the rhetoric of their multimedia design decisions. (You’ll recognize some of these from Don’s video.)

1. TIME & PROPORTION One Slide Doesn’t Always Equal One Minute

If you’re composing a PowerPoint, make sure you consider your ration of slides to minutes you’re presenting. It’s pretty hard to get through 20 slides in ten minutes unless you want your audience to experience visual whiplash. Depending on the kind of information you’re covering, some slides may take more time, whereas you might breeze through others. Practicing your presentation – and timing it – is the most useful way to know whether you need to cut down, or add on, to your presentation. Make sure you leave time for your title, introduction, and conclusion slides.

You’ll also need to pay attention to the proportion of slides you dedicate to each section of your presentation. For example, if you have 5 slides with information about your current event but only one that discusses your original analysis, you might want to rethink what you really need to emphasize. Likewise, if you’re making a DVD, don’t spend more time educating your audience about your issue than you do backing up your original analysis. Think balance.

2. STRUCTURE    Paragraph : Slide : Frame

Each medium has a basic organizing unit. An essay has paragraphs. A PowerPoint has slides. A video has frames.  Just as each paragraph in an essay should have a clear purpose, so each slide or frame should have a clear purpose and should relate to the larger composition. And just like an essay, your PowerPoint or DVD should have an introduction (including a thesis), a body, and a conclusion. An outline works for composing in any medium, and a topic sentence outline can still be useful for organizing your points in a multimedia project.

A. PowerPoint. Take advantage of bullet points and differing slide layouts to organize your ideas, manage your slide space, and help structure your ideas.

B. DVD. For frames that present written text, PowerPoint rules generally apply. In addition, make sure a quote or statistic stays on the screen long enough so that the audience can read it. If your text is spoken (i.e., an interview), choose someone who speaks clearly and is articulate about his/her ideas.

3. AESTHETICS    Flash does not equal attention

Multimedia software offers the student composer a number of zippy add-ons and animation options to make a presentation flashier.  But like a good essay, you want your audience focused on your ideas, on your good thinking, not on flashing colors and blinking text that distract readers from your ideas or hurt your ethos by making you look unprofessional.

A. Clip Art. Like flash animation, clip art can also be distracting. More importantly, it probably won’t set the right tone. Let’s say you’re creating a presentation on the importance of foxes in an ecosystem. Consider the ethos of the following images. Which one seems most professional?

Cartoon clip art.

A pen-and-ink illustration.

A photograph.

B. Other Images. Tables, graphs, and photographs can also be useful and may help your audience visualize a point you’re making. Make sure these images are big enough for the person in the back to see clearly, and make sure they’re not fuzzy, stretched, or pixelated, especially if you’ve enlarged the original. Poor photographs and hard-to-see graphics will hurt you more than not including them at all.

4. FONTS    Pretty Isn’t Always Professional

Just like clip art, fonts have a tone or ethos as well, and your audience will take you more, or less, seriously depending on the font you choose. As with Word, you have a wide choice of fonts to use both in PowerPoint and Movie Maker. There are basically two types of fonts: serif fonts and sans serif fonts.

Two Types of Fonts.

Remember to pick a font that’s easy on the eyes. You may want to use a different font for headings than you use for the rest of your text. That’s fine, but be consistent and don’t use more than two fonts total or your text will start to look messy.

DO steer clear of fancy fonts or fonts that are “themed” – for example, those that look like handwriting or cursive or fonts that look like engraving, etc. In addition, avoid using fonts with letters placed too close together; they’re hard to read.

A. Font Color. The most important thing to remember with fonts, and particularly with font color, is readability. This is especially important when your audience is viewing something like a PowerPoint or a video. Your favorite color might be yellow, but it sure won’t show up well on a white background. And yellow on a dark background can look fuzzy when enlarged.

Stick with neutral colors and remember that the sharpest contrast is usually dark text on a very light background.

B. Font Size. Again, readability is of the utmost importance. Make sure your fonts are big enough to that the person in the last row can read what you’ve written.

5. TEXTUAL EXTREMES    Achieving Balance

I tend to see extremes in students’ PowerPoint slides: either a slide contains a whole paragraph and fights with the presenter for the audience’s attention, or  a slide has very little text and looks “unfinished.” Another problem: bullet points may contain one vague word apiece, neglecting to give the audience enough to understand what’s being said. So I often see bullet points on slides that look like this (say your presentation is about advantages of cleaning up the Wabash River):

  • Water – ecosystem
  • Wildlife

When these more specific bullets would help your audience understand your points better:

  • Healthier river ecosystem
  • Return of endangered wildlife

6. JUGGLING THE MULTI- IN MULTIMEDIA    Transitioning with Technology

The last mistake I often see students make is neglecting to transition smoothly between different forms of technology. For example, if you’ve been going through PowerPoint slides and you want to show a video, make sure that the audience knows what’s coming and why we should pay attention. In short, just as you would offer us a transition in an essay, give us one in your presentation too. Consider the following introductions and which one would make you sound more credible:

  • “So here’s this video…”
  • “The following BBC news clip from October shows protesters occupying Wall Street…”

So  make sure you effectively introduce your media.  Here’s one last thing to consider. You don’t necessarily have to embed a video in your PowerPoint. It’s fine to have a video pulled up ahead of time and to switch over to it. Just make sure your transitions are smooth and seamless so you don’t waste time or look unprepared, and your audience doesn’t have time to get distracted.


“Miss Representation”: Free Screening on Campus

The long-awaited film Miss Representation, a documentary that takes a critical look at the media’s portrayal of women. Building on work done by scholars like Jean Kilbourne, this film focuses not just on ads but on the media as a whole. Those of you who found Killing Us Softly 4 eye-opening should find this equaly interesting.

The screening will be followed by a brief panel discussion about the film.


Tuesday, March 27th from 6:00 to 8:00pm, Lawson Computer Science Building, Room 1142

Check out the Facebook page for more details.

“This insightful documentary from director Jennifer Siebel Newsom examines how women are portrayed by the mainstream media, and how the focus on beauty and sexuality instead of intellect and talent contributes to disenfranchisement. Interviews with high-profile leaders such as Dianne Feinstein, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem are intermingled with observations by young women who struggle with mixed messages about body image, self-worth and power.” (from http://www.netflix.com)

Watch the Official Trailer:

Rally for Trayvon Martin, March 28th

There will be a rally and march to show solidarity for Trayvon Martin on March 28th at 5:30pm. Participants should meet at McCutcheon Hall at 5:30pm, and the march to Stanley Coulter (SC) 277 will follow. Please wear hoodies and bring signs. The event is being sponsored by the Purdue University Black Student Union (BSU).

Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was gunned down by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain while walking through his father’s gated community in Florida back in February. He was returning from the local convenience store where he’d bought a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. Though the shooter is known, he has not been arrested. The case has sparked rallies and protests across the nation.

Read more about Trayvon Martin’s case.

Black Women and Beauty: Building on Jean Kilbourne

Part of our conversation following Kilbourne’s video lecture two weeks ago revolved around images of Black women, particular skin tone. As some of you noted, Black women often have their complexions lightened in fashion photos to approximate a whiter standard of beauty. The Crunk Feminist Collective recently posted an article on their blog about this. For more, click the link below:

“A Brief Reflection on the Battle of the Complexions Controversy”


The Humble Argument, Chapters 9-11: Improving Your Arguments


Inductive reasoning: “Looks at a collection of detailed evidence and from that evidence draws a general conclusion about what it means” (Humble 189). This is a form of analysis, which you’ve been practicing all semester.

Deductive reasoning: Taking a general idea and applying it to a particular situation with your reason (189).

Most of the time in academic writing, your essays should be built on deductive reasoning; however, inductive reasoning is useful, especially if you’re asked to analyze something (e.g., an ad, movie, or public space). You should always follow a provocative idea with a logical defense (Humble 200).

A good reason – one that will support your claim – should be relevant, credible, and logical. Bad reasons, or what we call fallacies in composition studies, are often built on weak links between a claim and the relevancy, credibility, or logic of the reason that follows. As Humble states, “Sometimes a reason is bad because the relationship of claim and reason is based on some kind of emotional or symbolic association that defies any clear logical relationship” (198).

To build an argument, you need to identify your claim, your reasons that show that your claim is a good one, and the assumptions underlying your reasons. All of these should be clear. In a given essay, you should have several claims that all tie back to and support your thesis. So in a given paragraph in your essay, you should be able to identify a claim you’re making and explain why it’s important and/or relevant (reasons) to your main argument; you may also need to unpack the assumptions behind your claim, especially if your readers might not readily accept them.

More Resources

Read about how logic works in writing on the OWL.


Turn to Susan Sontag’s chapter “Plato’s Cave” in your coursepack. Skim through it again and see if you can identify at least three claims that she makes. A claim should be not a fact but a smaller piece of her argument, something debatable that the author would then support.

Now choose one of those claims. How does Sontag back it up in the paragraph that follows? Can you identify her reasons, or grounds?

In short, you will be close-reading a paragraph from Sontag’s essay to better understand the purpose of each sentence within a given paragraph. This should serve as a model for your own essays, so make a note of her writerly moves.


In the Toulmin argument model claims, reasons, and assumptions are also called claims, grounds, and warrants (pp.228-229). This argument model stresses not only logical reasoning but also real-world applicability. In addition, in this model a writer notes all the underlying ideas that must be accepted for the reasons, or grounds, to work as support for a claim.

Why warrants are tricky: most of the time, warrants aren’t directly stated; they are implicit and we must therefore deduce them through logical inference.

When you have a warrant that needs some explanation (i.e., if a reader might not readily agree with an assumption you’re making), then your warrant might need backing.

EXTRA CREDIT: Images of Black Women in America w/ Dr. Freeman-Marshall

Given the class’s interest in Jean Kilbourne’s video (what a great discussion!) and the number of you who attended the forum on the State of the Black Purdue Student, I thought many of you would be interested in this event, hosted by the Black Thought Collective here at Purdue.


Our own Dr. Freeman-Marshall will give a talk about Harris-Perry’s book.

When: Wednesday, April 11th at 7:00 pm

Where: Black Cultural Center Library, 1100 Third Street, on Purdue’s campus

Cost: Free

“The Black Thought Collective is committed to dialogue that will foster intellectual enlightenment as well as educational opportunities beyond the classroom specifically experienced through an Afrocentric perspective.”

If you are interested in learning more about The Black Thought Collective, I’m happy to pass along contact information. Inquire in class.


As with the forum, I will offer extra credit to any student who attends the event and who writes and submits a one-page (minimum) response to the talk.If you can, make connections between what we’ve discussed in class and points discussed in the talk. You do not need to read the book to attend the event, though I hope Dr. Freeman-Marshall’s talk will make you interested in reading more!

Tony Earley’s “Somehow Form a Family”: Who’s Watching?

Opie, from "The Andy Griffith Show," a popular American TV show that ran from 1960-1968 and was set in the fictional small town of Mayberry.


Mr. Greenjeans (right) on an episode of "Captain Kangaroo," a long-running children's TV series (1955-1984). The show was based on "the warm relationship between grandparents and children."


Hoss, from the show "Bonanza," a popular western TV show that ran from 1959-1973.


Gomer Pyle (right) and Sgt. Carter from the show "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." (1962-1964). Jim Nabors played Gomer Pyle.


A clip from The Brady Bunch, in which Jan runs for Most Popular Girl at her school, ft. the Bradys’ housekeeper, Alice (in blue). The show ran from 1969-1974.



Like Tony Earley in his essay, consider what television shows are popular today, or were popular when you were a kid.Think about how these shows shaped your expectations of family, love and relationships, work, school, etc.

  1. How has television influenced your view of the world?
  2. What characters did you relate to and why?