Why you shouldn’t embrace an all-image slide presentation

Photos and other visuals should complement your words, not replace them. Excuses don’t help.

When I’m coaching executives who are using slides in their presentations, I feel as if I’ve heard every rationalization in the book.

Most try to justify an enormous number of slides-often too many to get through in one sitting. Of late, one justification seems common, and it’s dangerous: “But all my slides are pictures.” And no, these speakers aren’t photographers for National Geographic.

I’m not a fan of all-or-nothing solutions, and when it comes to presentations, they rarely work. What bothers me is the subtext behind that “all my slides are pictures” rationale.

Do these justifications sound familiar?

1. You know I’m going to object to a large number of slides. Sadly, putting images on all your slides doesn’t soften the blow of a 300-slide deck. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but 300 pictures? More like a memory blur for the audience.

2. “I notice that those TED speakers prefer pictures in their slides.” Please don’t blame TED and TEDMED for your picture mania. Many people, including me, think the best TED talks are those without slides. What’s more, the TED Commandments for speakers don’t mention slides at all (a hint, perhaps), and TEDMED’s speaker guidance says, “I will use visuals to enhance my words, not duplicate them.” TED speakers most often use pictures for things their words can’t capture, not as repetition.

3. You have one slide for every point you want to make, and you think pictures will conceal that. Many coaches, seeking to make each slide simpler, advise “one point per slide,” but no one advocates one slide per point, even if they are visuals. Trust me, we’ll still notice.

4. You’re using your slides as cue cards. Many speakers rely on these visual cues. The audience can tell you’re doing it, and images don’t change that.

5. You think a picture makes the point better than you can. This can be true-just not on every slide. If you think you need a picture for every moment of your message, work on your confidence as a speaker.

I’m not against pictures, but they are not a magic elixir to be sprayed all over your presentation.

Use your words to create what I call invisible visuals—vivid word pictures that capture the mind’s eye. Those are the images that will stick with your audience long after your talk is over.

Denise Graveline is a Washington, D.C.-based speaker coach. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, The Eloquent Woman.


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