All of us have attended those endless and excruciating PowerPoint presentations and somehow managed to survive. We have all witnessed confusing and poorly designed slide decks that made us want to pull our hair out. And yet, when it is our turn to become presenters, we are not always able to avoid the pitfalls that seem so obvious to us when we are mere spectators. Let’s take a deeper look at the hazards we face when we prepare our visual aids and how to elude them. Let’s put some life back into our presentations!
Do I really need to torture my audience?
The most terrible thing that can happen after giving a presentation is to leave your audience bored, confused, angry, or, in the worst-case scenario, all three at the same time. Boredom often comes from a lack of relevant and stimulating content. The confusion derives from a lack of communication skills when trying to get your message across. As for anger, it generally emanates from a feeling of deception: we have not learned anything significant and basically wasted one hour or more of our lives. How to avoid turning an audience of benevolent human beings into a hoard of walking (or rather sitting) dead?
Do I really need slides?
As presenters, we feel our slide deck is the backbone that will keep us alive and standing throughout our presentation. Most times, our slides are just useless repetitions of our speech or sheer space-fillers. They don’t bring anything new and, more often than not, divert attention from the important ideas we want to convey through our speech. Unfortunately, slides have become the final goal of presentations to the detriment of actual ideas. Always ask yourself: is this slide relevant and impactful? Will it help my audience understand my idea better? If in doubt, get rid of it.
Do I really want my PowerPoint presentation to look like a PowerPoint presentation?
PowerPoint has been synonymous with tediousness for a long time now and yet, it is still the most widely used presentation program: estimates show that 30 million PowerPoint presentations are designed every day! Nevertheless, there are numerous free alternatives: Google Slides, Keynote, Prezi, Visme, Zoho Show, to name just a few. Our love-hate relationship with PowerPoint is so strong that it seems we cannot live with it but we cannot live without it either! There is nothing wrong with sticking to the old beloved software but we need to rethink the way we prepare our slide deck.
Do I really need complex slides filled with information?
We generally believe that apparently complicated slides will make us seem smarter or more professional. Nothing could be further from the truth! According to presentation expert Alexei Kapterev, your presentation should be significant, structured, simple, and rehearsed. Simplicity is indeed a key concept that will lead to full comprehension and memorization of your ideas by your audience. Let’s follow Einstein’s advice on this: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This means that you should be able to explain complex ideas in a clear and memorable manner without leaving out any important aspect of your concept.
Do I really know the ultimate purpose of slides?
Kapterev has noticed that slides are generally used as prompters: Is there anything worse than presenters turning their back on you to read their slides? Some presenters also think they work as handouts: Why attend an endless presentation when I could have read this myself in ten minutes? Another erroneous use for slides is to dump data or info as if people liked to be overwhelmed with mountains of numbers and indecipherable graphics.
So what are slides really for? First, they need to help my audience visualize my idea. Second, they have to display key points that your audience will fully understand, assimilate and memorize. Finally, they have to impress, that is to create a strong impact for your audience to remember your ideas. To achieve this, you need to present less text and more images. However, you should be careful: you have to avoid the hackneyed general images we have seen a thousand times before. You should use only one image per slide and when we say image, we mean photo, not clipart. Moreover, your photo needs to be large and clear but most importantly, striking, meaningful, and memorable.
What should my slides look like?
Presentation specialist David JP Phillips explains how to avoid Death by PowerPoint with a few basic rules. All 6 principles are based on how your brains work and how our eyes are attracted to specific kinds of lights, colors, shapes, and sizes.
- One message per slide! Our brain is not capable of processing two pieces of information at the same time, except, of course, if you are a savant. If you are afraid of having too many slides in your deck, remember they are free!
- Avoid sentences! Keep your text to a minimum, that is, key points and main concepts. If your audience is trying to listen to you while reading your slide, the outcome will be fatal: they won’t remember anything.
- Size does matter! Our eyes are automatically attracted to larger objects. We tend to write our titles in larger fonts while the most important information is almost always your key points. We should therefore change our logic: larger fonts for important text and smaller fonts for less important titles.
- Use contrast! When projecting a list of key points on the screen, you want to guide your audience’s attention to what you are currently speaking about. It is therefore a great idea to highlight certain words while dimming away the others to avoid distraction.
- Maximum six objects per slide! When confronted with more than 6 objects, our brains slow down because they have to start counting them. With fewer objects, we just see them. If we want people to remember every piece of information present on a slide, we should not exceed 6 objects.
- Show dark backgrounds! Think how our eyes are drawn to TVs like moths to a flame. Indeed, we are naturally attracted to warm and bright colors, moving images, large objects, and sharp contrasts. What does it mean? You should highlight your text with bright colors over a dark background.
That’s it! We hope you will find these tips helpful. We wish you the best of luck on your next presentation.