I would like to try to sell you something. But don’t worry, it won’t cost you a dime. I’m not going to try to sell you a book, or consulting services, or a training class, or a product of any kind.
I want to sell you on a concept. One that directly contradicts your current beliefs and challenges your current comfort zone. I would like to sell you on a different way of thinking about the PowerPoint slide decks you create for your presentations.
I want you to know that even though you are saying all the right things, and are carefully placing facts, evidence, and valuable education on your slides, they could be a lot more effective. They could help you get your points across with greater emphasis. They could keep your audience more engaged and interested in your topic. They could spur greater retention of key facts. And they could make you stand out as a better presenter, someone people look forward to hearing from. Someone who gets great post-lecture evaluations.
This isn’t a matter of using a different PowerPoint template or following a rigid methodology for slide design. All I want you to do is to think about slides for a live presentation as being different from handouts. Right now, you create your slides based on your training and experiences with professional writing. Your slides are designed so that you can hand them out, just like any other document, to attendees and to people who missed your presentation. People need to be able to read through your presentation and get the valuable information you worked so hard to gather and organize.
That is a commendable goal, and it’s a valuable resource you are making available. Definitely create that handout. But here’s the critical new perspective I want to push… If the slides are good enough to convey the information on their own, why do you need to be there? You don’t add much value if your job is to read the slides out loud to the audience and occasionally tell them that although a table or chart is too dense or complex to see on the screen, they can study it in more detail later.
So what’s the alternative?
Take the responsibility for your live presentation on yourself, rather than placing it on your slides. Turn all those bullet points and densely-packed text into your speaker notes. Just copy them down into the notes section of your slides. Up in the presentation space, challenge yourself to consolidate and synthesize each point into the shortest possible set of keywords that you can. Find a graphic that supports your point and acts as a visual stimulus and memory aid for your audience while they listen to you verbally fill in the blanks and add the details.
Instead of one slide titled “Benefits of The Solution” and eight bullet points listing benefits, create eight slides, with each bullet point now being used as the slide title. You’ll spend the same amount of time in your talk, but instead of sitting on one text slide for eight minutes, you get to introduce a slide change and a new visual cue every minute! Your audience can take in each point you make as a separate, important piece of information that can be mentally processed and filed away.
The great thing about reinventing your slides this way is that it automatically makes you look good. Audiences dismiss a presenter who reads text off the slides. Even though you were the one who put them together and it represents your knowledge, the psychological perception is that you don’t really know the subject and all you can do is read the slides out loud. But if you show a slide and give the audience more information about the topic, they are impressed with your subject mastery and knowledge.
Take the opportunity to make your next presentation better for you and for your audience by thinking about your slides as visual support for your talk, rather than the primary conveyor of your information. I promise you it will be worth the effort.