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Master the arts of creating and performing talks

Never make a slide like this.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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I show people how to be more effective oral communicators. Part of that job is to make the complex simple. What does it take to deliver a talk well? What are the essential skills? How can they be condensed into an understandable, practical way? I developed and teach the six keys to performing any type of talk. This slide contains those keys. If I put this slide up at a workshop, no one would think that the slide design is anything unusual. It looks like slides we see all the time. That’s sad because this slide is terrible. There is no nice way to say it. And yes, that means that almost all the slides you usually see are terrible. How can you avoid creating dreadful slides?

Don’t bury the slide in words! Many people have made this point and fought to change the wordy/bullet point mindset, yet the message hasn’t caught on. If you are committed to complete sentences, write an article and hand it out. If for some reason you want your article in PowerPoint form, make slides such as this one and send us the PowerPoint. No audience wants to sit in a room and have presenters read to them. They know how to read. If you want the audience to read, shut up and let them read without distraction.

Focus on your speaking, not your slide. Where did we get the idea that people come to presentations to read? Shouldn’t presentations be about presenting? About oral communication? Why are you there? If every word is on a slide, you are unnecessary. You have become redundant. If you want to make a point, take down the verbiage and talk to us.

Key words only. But let’s say you want key points presented visually. Your theory is that some people are visual learners and need to see something. Maybe, but they don’t need to see every word you say. They need key words. You are there for a reason. You are there to present, to talk, to explain. Don’t have slides doing your job. See the key word which in isolation is much more impactful–listen to me explain its importance. Cut the fat. This also makes it easier on the audience. They won’t have to work as hard. They won’t have to read your whole book while they are trying to listen.

Never add meaningless art. Yes, PowerPoint makes it easy to add pictures. But do the pictures contribute to the message. Wait! There is this 3-D star thing that you can add and rotate? Isn’t that awesome? No. It’s silly, distracting, and irrelevant.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Think of people in the back of the room. Can everyone see everything on the slide without struggling. What font size is appropriate? Larger is better. Does the background make it more difficult to see what you want them to see? Yes, I know it is easy to add background designs but they are not necessary.

Never use bullet points. Why bullet points? Totally unnecessary. THERE IS NO LAW THAT SAYS ALL SLIDES MUST HAVE BULLET POINTS! In no way is this slide improved because of the bullet points. In no way is it diminished if bullet points are removed. Audiences are sick of bullet points. Bullet points almost always indicate that there is too much on a slide, and if that isn’t the case, then they are unnecessary.

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Use lots of slides. We aren’t wasting paper here. Don’t cram a lot of information and pictures onto one slide. It is better to spend one minute on each of ten slides then to spend ten minutes explaining everything on one overly crowded slide.

Use images better. Break the habit of pasting little images in the corner of the slide. Make images the focus of the slide and choose images that amplify your message. I bought the images in the following slides from StockExchange, but many sites (unsplash.com for example) offer pictures for free.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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A picture containing table

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A close up of a person

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You get the idea. Start by looking at slides with new eyes. What is normal is not what is good or desirable. Be the person that breaks the mold and raises the bar. Be a presenter, not a reading supervisor.