How often have you been distracted or even annoyed by a speaker constantly saying "Next Slide… Next Slide?"
This is a surprisingly hard habit to break. When I moderate webinars where I need to advance slides for guest presenters, I ask them to use other signaling phrases that fit more smoothly into the conversational flow:
- "As we move on…"
- "The next thing we'll see is…"
- "Continuing with our next graphic…"
- "How does this work? Let's take a look…"
- "I've outlined those points on the next slide…"
- "Why don't we continue with a look at the details?"
The speakers generally nod their head and agree. Then they start talking and it's right back to "Next slide… Next slide."
Honestly, I don't know of a magic bullet to fix the behavior. It's just something to be conscious of and to practice as a speaker. Make this a part of your personal skills development plan.
This also gives me a chance to once again reiterate a best practice that too many speakers overlook. Have a copy of your slides printed out and next to you on your desk. Yes… I want you to use wasteful, environment-unfriendly paper!
Many presenters tell me that they have a second computer or a second window open with their slides. This inevitably leads to confusion, as they forget to keep the conferencing display synchronized with their own reference display. It is distracting and cognitively difficult to move attention back and forth from one display to the other as you focus task attention on advancing your slides.
Having a hardcopy reference gives you the ability to see your next slide and start talking about it even if there is a lag in refreshing the display on your conferencing computer - or if the moderator is slow to advance the slide for you. If you use telephone audio, it also gives you a failsafe in the event of a computer malfunction… You can continue delivering your presentation over the phone, using your printout for reference. The moderator can continue advancing the slides for the audience, and you don't have to abort your webinar.
Did you pause for a moment when reading that last paragraph? I offhandedly mentioned something that many speakers find inconceivable: Talking about a slide before it is displayed. A sure sign that a presenter is under-prepared is when you hear dead air while waiting for the next slide to show up on the screen. Then you hear a subtle tone of recognition in the speaker's voice as they see what they are supposed to talk about. The slide is the information-carrier and the presenter is just a text-to-speech assistant.
If you are a presenter, you should work at eliminating that telltale pause between slides. Your printout shows you what is coming next. You can lead into the information even before the audience sees the next set of bullet points or next graphic. It's hard to give generic examples, so let's just pick a few illustrative cases.
Suppose this is your next slide:
Don't wait for it to appear and then redundantly tell your audience "Here are the sales determinants." While on the previous slide, you both signal your moderator and fill space while waiting for the new slide to show up with something along the lines of:
"Next, I'd like to introduce some of the key sales determinants we have isolated. The information comes from studies that were conducted over several years, backed by interviews with our most successful sales personnel. Some of these should already be familiar to you, but you may not be thinking about all of them…"
By that time, you know that both you and your attendees are looking at the bullets and you can talk about them. But there has been no uncomfortable and unnatural break in your presentation flow.
What if you need to reference very specific tables and charts? You can't possibly talk about them until they show up, right?
The same type of lead-in works:
"Now let's move on to look at some specific sales statistics gathered from our divisions since the start of the year. I'm going to group the data into a few different representations, so you can easily see key trends."
How about a reference diagram, where the audience can't possibly know what you are talking about until they see the graphic?
Once again, the trick is to set up what is about to appear and mentally prepare your audience for the next piece of informational content.
"I've put together a high-level architectural diagram of the way all the components interact. You'll see that in a second, and it may seem overwhelming at first. Don't panic… I'm going to step you through it and make sure the data flow is clear."
By employing these techniques, you can make your presentation seem more conversational and cohesive. You want your audience concentrating on the information you deliver and its value, not on the mechanics of movement from slide to slide.