Here’s a simple slideshow that I gave to a board of executives this past week (sans audio speaking points):
I’ve designed hundreds of presentations – some for others, and many that I present myself. I’ve also sat through many that have been boring, unmemorable, difficult to follow, and even incomprehensible (often times in a classroom).
In this era of PowerPoint and Keynote, many presenters have taken to “hiding” behind their presentations by listing too many bullet points – so that readers are often focused on reading what is on the slide, and not listening to the speaker. Worse yet, the bullet point list on the slides often becomes the presenter’s script.
At the risk of evangelizing Lawrence Lessig too much, I yet again point to him as an example. The Lessig style of presentation takes key words and graphics to emphasize his talking points. The visual presentation is merely a supplement to his talk, not vice versa. See his style in work on a talk about Free Culture.*
My focus is often on marketing and communications, so I tend to use more imagery and less words than Lessig, but here are key rules that I’ve learned about slide-show presentations that I hope others will consider:
Less is more. The less words there are on the screen, the more engaged the audience can be with a speaker. When the slides are filled with bullet statements, I am distracted by reading the presentation. I want to hear the presenter, otherwise, I could read a book or paper. Likewise, I want to be heard as a presenter because what I’m saying ought to be more engaging than lines of text.
Help visualize the important themes. Lessig does this well by extracting single words, phrases, or graphics per slide. You hear these words and phrases as part of his talk and the visualization puts emphasis on take-aways. Visuals serve two other purpose: to know that we are on the same page when I am describing something familiar (or unfamiliar), and as a mental signal that I’ve transitioned in my talk.
Don’t over animate. Newer versions of PowerPoint, in particular, have fancy entries and exits. While simple transitions aid in easing the eye, animations don’t do much but distract. Bouncing letters and spinning charts just take the audience’s attention away from what the speaker is saying.
Embed. Often times presentations require links to external media. Save time and distraction for your audience by embedding – whether it be a webpage or videolink. The less switching in and out of your presentation the smoother and cleaner the presentation.
You are the presentation. Not the slideshow. Speak for yourself, and let the presentation be your accessory, not your crutch.
*If you like learning, particularly about copyright and imapct on social media, I highly recommend watching the Free Culture video in full.