Avoid a PowerPoint Slumber Party:
Bring Slide Dazed Audience Back to Life

By Karen Friedman

Brian Fugere and several co authors wrote a great book titled: Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, a look at the frightening world of corporate speak. I would like to reserve the title of what could be a sequel called: Why Business People Create Slide Shows That Put People to Sleep.

You’ve seen these people. You’ve probably been in many of their audiences. They have 495 slides which they read to you one by one in a monotone voice with no facial expression and expect you to follow along in a font that even your ophthalmologist couldn’t translate.

For starters, most of us can read by ourselves, thank you very much. Secondly, assuming we can read, why then, doesn’t the presenter just send us the slides instead of inviting us to a presentation? They could save us a lot of time, though we certainly wouldn’t have those extra minutes to catch up on our sleep.

Am I being too sarcastic? Perhaps. But, I spend a good deal of my time coaching people through presentations and critical meetings in which they’ve spent a considerable amount of time designing and perfecting slides, but have spent little if any time thinking through their message. Creating a Power Point show or any slide template is not communicating. According to the English dictionary, communicate means to “converse”, to “impart” or to “connect”. The only thing connective about most slide shows is the plug that you stick into the socket to make the projector run. So, what is a presenter to do?

No One Came to See a Slide Show: Before you create a single slide, think about what you want to say. What do you want people to think, do, know or feel when you’re done speaking? What’s the theme of your talk? If the slides crashed, could you still tell the story? If your answer is no, then your message is muddled and you don’t truly own your material. Write your talk first and then create slides that reinforce what you’re saying instead of using your slides as a script.

Talk, Don’t Read: Reading is for the eye. Listening is for the ear. It’s important to create slides that speak in phrases, not sentences so you talk instead of read. Eliminate words such as if, and, the, in, on, of. Instead, use 3 to 5 words per line to reinforce what you’re saying so people are listening to you and not reading the slide. Look for opportunities to reveal these lines to prevent people from reading ahead and to focus their attention where you want it. Remember, less is more when trying to help people retain information.

Don’t Put Everything on the Slide: What works in print material does not always translate to a slide. A presenter’s job is to help listeners make sense of the information. If you put too much on the slide, they’ll be reading item Z while you’re still talking about item A. Instead of copying profit and loss statements or cutting and pasting data from a study, create colorful charts, graphs and pictures that can highlight data, evoke emotion and make the information more relevant to the listener. That’s what they’ll remember.

Think Headline: Look at each slide and ask: “What do I want them to take from this slide? What’s the headline and what does it mean to the people in the room?” Then think about how to walk them through the information and focus attention where you want it. For example: “Look at the purple box on the left compared to the yellow box on the right. Notice how much bigger the purple box is…nearly double the size. That means we’ve doubled our profits.” While every slide doesn’t have to stand on its own, it must have a reason for being there such as setting up a point or driving home a message.

We Don’t Do It That Way Here: Just because others drone on doesn’t mean you have to be boring too. Think of every presentation as a huge opportunity to inform, persuade or sell your point of view. If a slide set has been designed for you, you should still look for ways to personalize the information and create moments that audiences remember. If you are required to present every single slide, that doesn’t mean you have to read every point. Provide an overview and tell the audience that details will be available in written form later.

Hit Them Over the Head: Your first few words determine whether your audience tunes in or out. So, why do people need a slide to tell the audience what they are going to talk about? Don’t they know why they’re here? When you open your mouth, hit them over the head with a story or example that engages, grabs attention and evokes emotion. Help them understand why they should care if you want them to listen. What’s in it for them?

Finally, picture yourself at the back of the room straining to see the slide. Create slides for those people. Use color, big fonts and contrast. Remember, every time you speak, you’re on! Look for ways to stand out and set the bar a bit higher so people look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Read other articles and learn more about Karen Friedman.

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