Debunking 6 myths about presentation slides

PowerPoint and other visual aids can work wonders, but many speakers have taken certain erroneous assertions as indisputable. Here are the counterpoints.

Many presenters believe in a mythology about slides that’s hard to shake.

The result? Audiences all over the world are experiencing what’s commonly known as “death by PowerPoint,” although it can happen with any slide software.

If you are building slide decks with these myths in mind, it’s time to rethink your approach so you can be a more effective presenter:

1. Fewer slides are better. This myth sounds good, but it leads to overcrowded slides or slides with complex graphics on which the speaker plans to spend considerable time. A better option? One thought per slide, to allow your audience time to absorb each point.

2. I need a slide for every thought. The converse is another common myth. This idea suggests that the speaker can’t communicate without a slide in view. This is how truly overcrowded slide decks are born. Consider moving to a blank or patterned slide without text anytime you don’t have to show something. Your audience will reward you with its close attention.

3. Picture slides solve all these problems. Simply using pictures on every slide just doesn’t work. Your audience can tell when you use one picture per point, for example, or use pictures as cues. Instead, make sure each slide pulls its weight.

4. Animations and other graphic tools keep the audience from being bored. Often, I find that speakers who are themselves bored with bullet slides overuse animations, fades, zooms and other gimmicks available in slide software. All graphic tools can be used to good effect, if they’re done sparingly. A deft hand will do more than an abundance of effects. Remember: If you’re bored, we’ll be bored. The solution doesn’t lie in overusing a tool.

5. My slides should repeat my spoken words for emphasis and retention. Here’s where many speakers’ slides go astray. Let me quote from TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. “There is no value in simply repeating in text what you are saying on stage. Conceivably, if you are developing a point over a couple of minutes, it may be worth having a word or phrase onscreen to remind people of the topic at hand. But otherwise, words on the screen are fighting your presentation, not enhancing it.” So, if the words are coming out of your mouth, we should not see them on the screen.

6. I need slides that create a takeaway. These may include a title slide with your presentation name, your name, the date and the event; a slide for every point (see above); a contact information slide; and even a “thank you” slide at the end. The problem? These slides don’t add one bit to your presentation. Most go unread; even the shortest slide decks are read later, fully, just 40 percent of the time. Set aside the leave-behind notes to post on a website. If your talk is captured on video, consider posting a transcript instead of crafting your slides as notes.

Denise Graveline is a Washington, D.C.-based speaker coach who has coached more than 140 speakers for TEDMED or TEDx talks. A version of this article originally appeared on her blog, The Eloquent Woman.

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