Read this before you create your next slide show

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 a bulleted list of information on a slide is the least-effective way of communicating with your audience.

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 next presentation look like without bullet points?

Let’s assume you have a dynamite presentation. Now go through it, looking for key messages and themes. Notice we didn’t say look for information. 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?

Instead of a word, can you use an image? Or a video? If you are talking about pollution, what is more compelling – words on a slide or a picture of garbage floating in a river?

What would stick most in your memory – facts and figures about garbage dumped in rural areas, or a photo of a country lane littered with garbage bags and mattresses?

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 shows that really work. Here are three examples of Garr’s approach:

  1. “Humans are completely incapable of reading and comprehending text on a screen and listening to a speaker at the same time. Therefore, lots of text (almost any text!), and long, complete sentences are bad, Bad, BAD.”
  2. “If you start reading your material because you do not know your material, the audience is very quickly going to think that you are a bozo. They are going to say to themselves ‘This bozo is reading his slides. I can read faster than this bozo can speak. I will just read ahead.” 
  3. “Here’s a key concept that is completely counterintuitive, but unbelievably powerful: “Say it, then show it,” rather than “Show it, then say it.” The vast majority of presenters put up a slide on the screen, glance at it, and then read it out loud to the audience. This is completely and disastrously wrong.”

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

Here are Podium’s top tips for winning slide shows:

  1. Don’t rush to build slides. Write out in point form your content first. Use a storyboard if you want. Once you have a structure that will serve your purpose, then – and only then – create the slides.
  2. Kill the bullets. Use a picture that appeals to the emotions, rather than text. Tell the audience what your bullets would have said. That way your words reinforce the slide, rather than duplicating the slide.
  3. If you must put text on slides, avoid sentences. Use a single word or maybe two words.
  4. Use videos. (Just make sure you have speakers for the sound).
  5. Never turn you back on the audience to read the words on your slides.
  6. Stand to the right of the screen so the audience’s eyes move from left to right and end on you.
  7. After you’ve finished preparing your slides, cut 25% out. Don’t force you audience to suffer slide fatigue.
  8. Remember you are always more important than your slides People have come to see you – not read your slides.

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 – not to replace you.

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.