Three tips to improve your slide presentations

A dispiriting comment was shared by a client the other day. She said a boss called her about an upcoming meeting and said “I don’t have time to come to your presentation. Just send me your slide deck.”

I was leading a workshop about ‘Presenting with Power’, and I was making the point that putting text-heavy slides on the screen and then repeating the words on the slides did not make for powerful slide presentations. Nor is it an effective way of communicating. In fact it is often counter-productive.

Don’t get me wrong. PowerPoint is a great tool. But it doesn’t guarantee powerful slide presentations.

Too often, we make PowerPoint (or Keynote if you’re a Mac fan) the center of our presentation. The truth is, it’s just a tool to support what we have to say. The slides don’t bring insight or perspective to a presentation. The presenter does that. The slides should reinforce what the presenter says – not replace the presenter.

Edward R. Tufte, of Yale University, summed it up: “PowerPoint is a competent slide manager and projector. But rather than supplementing a presentation, it has become a substitute for it. Such misuse ignores the most important rule of speaking: Respect your audience.”

Tufte is right. As speakers we must respect our audience. Here are three suggestions to help you harness the strength of PowerPoint and improve your slide presentations.

  1. never turn your back to your audience and read aloud the words on the screen. The audience can read just as well as you. In fact they’ve probably read your slide before you get to it.
  2. never prepare by doing the slides first. Always begin with your content. Talk it out, write it out, rehearse it. Then create your slides.
  3. try eliminating text from the slides. Look for relevant images instead. They are a great way of helping the audience make an emotional connection with the subject, while your words make the intellectual connection.

Remember, you’re the star, not PowerPoint.

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