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4 Mistakes People Make with PowerPoint Animations


Most of the advice out there about animations focuses on how NOT to use them, or on how much they get abused.

Ok – there’s truth to that, but it’s about as old as “don’t use 1990s clipart.” Most people get it.

BUT – just because a tool can be used to create something ugly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it… especially when it’s such a POWERFUL and EASY-TO-USE tool that’s already in your hands!

That’s why I think the #1 mistake people make with animations is NOT to using them at all…

Mistake #1: Not using animations at all

This is the hard part. And it can be scary, yes.

I’m guessing most people who avoid animations are afraid…

  1. Of being seen as that person whose slides are used as an example of Death by PowerPoint.
  2. That they’re not creative enough to come up with fun and engaging effects that enhance their message.
  3. That they can’t build professional-looking animations without hiring a designer or wasting weeks of their life.

But these are all untrue:

  1. Don’t under-estimate your ability and over-estimate the judgement of others.
  2. Anyone can have the creativity to build awesome PowerPoint animations.
  3. It’s only by learning how to play with them that you’ll learn how to harness their power

And they don’t have to be crazy wild animations either; they can be simple and still very effective.

Even using simple Wipe or Fade entrance animations helps walk your audience through your story – and eliminates the danger of looking cheesy! These are great ones to play with if you’re just getting started.

With a bit more creativity, you can get to the examples below. Wouldn’t you rather present the slides on the right?

Case study #1

Imagine you were talking to a small group of decision-makers and you needed to shed light on the dangers of losing our precious drinking water resources. Do you think you’d be more convincing with the slide on the left or on the right?

Their slides

Your slides

Their slides

Case study #2

Say you were wrapping up your talk and wanted to get feedback from your audience. Do you think they’d be more responsive and willing to raise their hands with the slide on the left or on the right?

Their slides

Your slides

Case study #3

Would your clients prefer receiving the holiday card on the left, or the animated card on the right? Does one show more of an effort?

Their slides

Your slides

Case study #4

If you’re showing your prospective client how you plan to work through the 5-step process with them over the next month, which two slides would you rather present to them?

Their slides

Your slides

Mistake #2: Not "stacking" animations

This is one of the simplest mistakes people make when adding animations to their slides…

They add a slide entrance animation and stop there. While this is great as a starting point, there’s so much more that can be done.

An easy way to make animation sequences look professional is not necessarily buying specialized animation software…

It’s simply taking simple PowerPoint animations and stacking them on top of each other!

Take this cool zoom effect sequence.

To create it I simply combined these animation effects:

  • Fly in
  • Grow/shrink
  • Fade in/Fade out

Or with more complex stacking, you can make this Pokemon Go capture sequence:

The challenge here is to make sure that you have a good set up and workflow to help you keep your sequences organized and timed correctly.

And this leads me to the third mistake people make with animations in PowerPoint…

Mistake #3: Not having a proper "Spice Rack" set up

Every chef knows that to make a flavorful meal, you have to know what spices you have and where they are in order to work with them.

The same is true with animations in PowerPoint: The key to creating awe-inspiring sequences is not just being creative…it’s also knowing what the available tools are and how to use them.

That’s a key is to set up and get familiar with your ‘Spice Rack.’

Every PowerPoint ‘Spice Rack’ should contain the right tools and workflow, such as:

  • An understanding of the 4 types of animations (Entrance, Exit, Emphasis, Motion Paths)
  • The Animation Pane
  • The Animation Painter, its shortcut, and its ‘locked’ mode
  • The Effect Options dialog box
  • The Selection Pane
  • A clear understanding of sequencing (timing, delays, and triggers).
  • A set sequence of tasks that you always follow when adding a new animation, so that you don’t forget an element or miss a step (mine’s very simple but it helps me stay on track).

Once you have your own ‘Spice Rack’ set up, you can understand what and where everything is so you can work with it more easily.

Mistake #4: Limiting animations to one slide

It’s tempting to try and get a 30-effect sequence to happen all on one slide. But it gets messy and tangled very quickly. Slides are free – you can use as many as you want.

A best practice of complex animations is to break sequences apart on more than one slide. This allows you to see and modify sequences easier, keep yourself organized, and create more interesting effects.

I can’t tell you how many sequences I used to redo entirely after getting all muddled up…it’s not fun.

So when you’re building out your next animation sequence, think about how you can ‘chunk’ your animations into parts that can be spread across slides.

This does mean that you have to keep track of where objects are positioned from slide to slide, but I guarantee you that if you’re building complex stacked animations, this tip alone can save you hours of wasted time and frustration.


There’s a funny irony in the world of animations in PowerPoint.

On the one hand, people love to hate them (you’ve probably seen Don McMillan’s stand-up piece about Death by PowerPoint, and others)…

And yet…

  • People say they want to take their slides from ‘dull’ and ‘snore,’ to ‘interactive’ and ‘WOW!’…
  • They say that they want to make their message more engaging with students, colleagues and clients…
  • And they know that cool animation sequences can make them look like magicians…

So they feel stuck.

But PowerPoint animations (and advanced animations) are available to everyone – that’s why created my YouTube channel – to share cool animation techniques that transform how you present.

And it’s only by learning how to play with them that you’ll take them from “blah” to “WOW!”

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Updated on June 24, 2019

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