Why slides make you boring and forgettable

Slides in a presentation can be a great help. But they can also be a terrible liability. In fact at Podium Coaching, we’d argue that – generally – slides create more problems than they solve.

It’s not just the problem with too much text on too many slides: we’ve all suffered through, and maybe inflicted, death by bullet point.

No, the problem with slides goes deeper. So deep, in fact, that it threatens to undermine the whole communication that it is supposed to be enhancing.

This was well expressed the other day by that excellent communications theorist and coach Dr Nick Morgan.

“Speakers still use (slide show) software for speaker notes, making them more about words than images.  Speakers still use the software as a crutch for getting through a presentation that they’ve insufficiently prepared. And speakers still throw far too much information on their slides routinely instead of doing the hard work of really figuring out what their talk is about and distilling the essence of it for the audience.”

But, says Dr Morgan, there’s a further problem with the software, one that’s even more insidious and destructive to good presentations.  “Because slides are created one at a time, they encourage people to think in terms of vertical slices rather than horizontal storytelling.  As such, they promote an ADD approach to presentations at a time when good storytelling is more important than ever to get and hold the attention of an audience.”

Dr Morgan makes the point that it’s hard to tell a good story with a slide – or even a series of slides.  And yet stories are what we remember. We’ve written many times here about the way good stories tweak the chemicals in our brain and help us remember the content. 

Your PowerPoint slide creation technique is therefore ensuring that your presentation will be forgettable and boring.

In much the same way as we respond to a hug, the chemicals in our brain respond to the emotional content of stories. That doesn’t happen with facts and figures. Yes, facts are important. But they are forgettable. Stories are the duct tape that make facts and figures stick in our memory.

Nick Morgan argues that slide show software is inherently biased against storytelling. “PowerPoint templates encourage bullet points. You create a slide by putting data (or words) on it. And then you repeat the process until you have enough slides to fill the time allotted.  What you now have is a data set, or a set of boxes with bulleted words in them — both hard to deliver in a presentation in an interesting way, and harder still to remember. Your PowerPoint slide creation technique is therefore ensuring that your presentation will be forgettable and boring.”

At Podium we urge clients to reduce the amount of text on slides. The slide’s job is to reinforce your message. You – the presenter – are the star of the show, You are the one with insight to share. The slide is there to help you – not replace you.

And see if you can go further than just reducing text; see if you can eliminate it. Can you use photographs or videos to connect with the audience and duct tape your message into their minds?

Can you tell a story that will resonate with the audience; a story that will illustrate your point in a very real way? Maybe after telling the story you can reinforce the message with a bullet point.

But make the creation of the bullet point your last thought – rather than your first instinct.