PowerPoint: don’t let your slides make you redundant

What’s wrong with this picture? I’m in Barcelona, looking at the remarkable work of iconic architect Antoni Gaudi… and I’m thinking of PowerPoint and Keynote. 

One of the perils of PowerPoint came to mind as I toured Casa Vicens, the first house designed by this ground-breaking architect who fused nature and functionality into a riot of colour and form. This was long before he devoted his life to building the Sagrada Familia church that is now a must-see for every visitor to this city.

As I toured Casa Vicens I wandered into a room where an information video provided context for the construction of the house, which was commissioned in 1877.

The video was in English, and subtitled in English as well. Without realizing it, I found myself reading the subtitles instead of listening to the English audio. When I finally realized how silly it was to read the cold text when I could enjoy the enthusiasm and expertise of the commentator, I focused on the audio. 

But, whether I liked it or not, my eyes kept looking at the subtitles. No matter how much I wanted to focus on the voice, my overwhelming instinct was to read the text on the screen. The presenter was in danger of becoming redundant.

The lesson? Give us something to read and we will read it. Put text on a screen and we will read it, galloping off ahead of the presenter and sometimes tuning-out what the presenter is saying.

Be strategic about how you use text on slides in a presentation. At Podium we encourage our clients to:

  • minimize the number of words on each slide
  • consider using a picture instead of text, so the image reinforces, rather than duplicates, the presenter’s words
  • use text on slides for key points and use your commentary to provide insight and context
  • if you must put more words on the screen – like a quote – set it up in commentary and then let the audience read the quote for themselves
  • use the reveal function to control the appearance of text on the screen, so the audience isn’t tempted to get ahead of your commentary

Remember, you are the star of the show – not the slides.

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Halina St James, founder of Podium Coaching and creator of TalkitOut

Halina St James takes the worry out of presentations with her Present Like a Pro video training course. It’s available now from the Podium Coaching online store, together with her popular TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers e-book and workbook.