Using Slide Decks to Your Advantage

Most people use slide decks ineffectively, viewing the slide deck itself as the presentation, rather than a support tool for their message. How many of you have sat through presentations where the speaker read his slides to you? Bullet points from top to bottom, sentences and paragraphs of text; what’s the point? The presenter may as well just print the slides and let you take them home to read yourself.

The slide deck also tends to be used as a crutch for people who experience some public speaking anxiety. It’s a great way to avoid looking at, or interacting with, the audience. Unfortunately, it’s also boring. So, what do you do instead?

First, change your outlook:

YOU are your presentation, not your slide deck.

I know that’s scary for some of you, but your presentation will be significantly more interesting for both you and your audience. If you are more interested in your presentation, your anxiety will lessen.

Here are a few tips to use slide decks to your advantage:

First, before you even open your slide deck application (Power Point, Keynote, etc.), craft a  message that you want to deliver to your audience. What is it you want them to walk away remembering? Make the message simple and clear.

Next, consider whether or not you need a slide deck at all. If your presentation is short and your message simple, you may not need it. Otherwise, use these guidelines in creating your slide deck as a support tool:

  • Use images instead of text to represent a concept
  • Use graphs and charts to simplify and clarify data
  • The only time you should use full sentences on your slide is for a great quote. In that case, put it on a slide all by itself, centered vertically and horizontally.
  • Bullet points are useful, but keep them short (1-3 words) and minimize the number per page – use a lot of white space. Bullets are useful for outlining the agenda or to list a few points you want the audience (or yourself) to remember.
  • Your slide deck is a great tool for structuring your presentation and keeping you focused. This includes setting expectations with an agenda, topic transitions (a slide that lists the next agenda topic and nothing else), and what I call reminder slides. For example, if I have 5 points I want to make on a specific agenda topic, I may use 5 slides that each have a great graphic image related to the point and the point itself is the slide header.

Now, what about you? If you are the presentation, not your slide deck, then how do you use this great support tool you’ve created? First and foremost, always face the audience. Spend your time talking to the audience, not your slide deck. Don’t even look at your slide deck (another crutch people tend to use – constantly glancing at the slide deck) until you need to reference the information. When referencing your slide deck, step back and to the side (still facing your audience), then reference the particular item in the slide with an outstretched arm or with your pointer. When finished with the reference, step forward again to put audience focus back on yourself.

Keep this in mind as well…if you have busy slides, your audience will likely spend time reading or trying to figure out the slides instead of listening to your words. You will split their attention between you and the slides and your message may be lost.

If you find yourself reading your slides or hiding yourself from the audience altogether, these are great clues that it’s time for a strategy change.