How to build better slide presentations

Looking for a great way of making your slide presentations stand out from the crowd?

Try dumping all those bullet points.

A whole lot of research into how the brain works suggests that bulleted lists of information on slides is the least-effective way of communicating with your audience.

It is especially ineffective when the text on screen doesn’t match the presenter’s words. Dr Richard Mayer, an educational psychologist in California, says words that are spoken have a greater impact on an audience than text on a slide.

If the audience is processing data on slides, they’re not concentrating on the spoken words.

What would your slide presentations look like… without bullet points?

At TED2014, David Epstein created a clean, informative slide deck to support his talk on the changing bodies of athletes. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Let us assume you have a dynamite presentation. Now go through it, looking for key messages and themes. You should be looking for the big thought that you want your audience to remember.

Take each big thought, and see how simply you can express it. Can you get it down to eight words on a slide? To four words? To one word?

You want your audience to be hanging on every word of your dynamite presentation. The role of the slide is to reinforce strategic elements of your message.

It takes courage to let go of those lines of bullets. But the rewards are enormous.

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds is a great read for anyone interested in creating slide presentations that really work.

Reynolds advocates more than simply reaching the amount of text on a slide: he urges presenters to use strong images INSTEAD of text.

What information are you representing with the written word on a slide that you could replace with a photograph (or other appropriate image or graphic)?

Here’s how he says we should approach the creation of slides: “Ask yourself this: what information are you representing with the written word on a slide that you could replace with a photograph (or other appropriate image or graphic)?”

Garr Reynolds is an interesting character. He lives in Japan, he’s a long-time student of the Zen arts, but his client list includes many in the Fortune 500.

Seth Godin is another advocate for moving away from text-heavy slides. Godin can always be relied on to have an interesting take on communications issues. Check his blog on Really Bad PowerPoints.

He reinforces what Reynolds says about dumping text in favour of relevant images. Here’s Godin’s suggestion: “Talking about pollution in Houston? Instead of giving me four bullet points of EPA data, why not read me the stats but show me a photo of a bunch of dead birds, some smog and even a diseased lung? This is cheating! Its unfair! It works.”