Slides. They are the most common visual aide used in presentations. Almost every speaker uses them… badly. You know what I’m talking about. How many times have you been abandoned by a speaker who spent more time facing their slides than facing the audience? How many times have you struggled to make out the words or make sense of the cluttered tables and confusing charts? Audiences deserve better. Speakers can do better.
Here I submit some simple dos and don’ts to help you give better presentations when using slides. Some of them may be obvious to you. Others may make you raise an eyebrow. But I’m confident that all of them will improve your presentations. Give them a try, observe how your audience responds, and share your experiences in the comments!
1. Don’t: prioritise your slides above your presentation
Your slides are not your presentation – they are the support. Keep this in mind when you’re preparing your presentation. Too often, it’s painfully apparent that the speaker has neglected the spoken content and delivery while obsessing over the slides. Remember that people are there to see you and hear what you have to say – not to admire your slides.
If your slides are more important than your speech, cancel your presentation and send everyone a document.
Do: plan, write and rehearse your presentation first. Then add slides where appropriate
Prepare your presentation first, without even thinking about slides. Then ask yourself, “Do I need anything to make my message clearer, stronger and easier to understand?” Make a post-it note for each slide you plan to include. Number it and make a corresponding note in your outline or script so you know which point it supports. Rehearse again, just with the post-its. You’ll be focused on what you’re saying and aware of your visual support as you communicate with your audience.
2. Don’t: compete with your slides
You want your audience to quickly digest your slides and get back to listening to you. Don’t go on talking when your audience is still processing your slide. You want their undivided attention. You won’t get that if your audience is still reading or making sense of your slide.
Do: keep your slides simple and relevant to your point. Pause to let the audience take it in. Go to a blank screen when the slide is no longer necessary
3. Don’t: make your audience read
This ties in with the previous points. Most people in your audience can read faster than you can talk. If you have text-heavy slides that are basically your script, your audience will read ahead and tune out.
Do: use minimal text and emphasise the key words
You don’t have to use full sentences in your slides. You don’t even have to use sentences at all! Since you’re speaking in full sentences, your slides need only highlight the key words or numbers. Try stripping your slides down to only the essential. Then magnify it! You’ll find that the fewer words and numbers you use, the more impact they have.
4. Don’t: use bullet points
If you display several bullet points at once, your audience will likely read ahead or lag behind as they ponder the previous points. Also, if you’re keeping your text short (as you should be!) and each point is a single line, there’s no need to punctuate with bullets anyway!
Do: use builds – introduce elements one by one, giving your audience time to absorb each step. Fade the previous points to focus attention on the present point
5. Don’t: read your slides
This is the cardinal sin of presenting with slides! Are your slides more important than your audience? Because that’s what you’re communicating when turn your back on them to read your slides.
If you don’t face your audience, you can’t connect. If you can’t connect, you won’t persuade.
Do: face your audience. Make eye contact, connect and interact with them. You can gesture towards the slide while keeping you body facing the audience.
In Part 2…
…the focus will shift to making your slides look better. For now, ask yourself if you’re guilty of any of the don’ts above. Try some of the dos on for size and feel free to leave a comment below.