Imagine that a colleague asks you how you are today. How bizarre would it be if, instead of answering with the trusted ‘I’m fine thanks, how are you?’, you instead reel off EXACTLY how you are, including your recent relationship history and any medical ailments you might be suffering from. That would, of course, be ridiculous. However, give people PowerPoint and that’s often exactly what happens, they seem to put the sum total of all human knowledge onto their slides. It’s the most frequent mistake presenters make. So let’s rid ourselves of this ailment once and for all!
So why do we do it?
One word…Safety. I don’t think there’s been a single person I’ve coached who hasn’t overfilled their slides, and when I ask them about it the answer is always the same – “I don’t want to forget anything important”. What people don’t realise is that it’s the equivalent of taking your house with you on holiday. Not just everything in it, but your actual house! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to forget important points, but that’s no reason to subject your audience to an eye bleeding selection of overfilled slides.
Sadly, the consequences of overfilling your slides are disproportionately severe, given the simplicity of the crime:
- You will annoy your audience – if it’s on a slide, people are going to want to read it, and if the text is too small they will soon become annoyed.
- Your audience won’t be listening to you. Psychologists have proven that people can’t do two things at once, therefore if they’re trying to work out what’s on point 18 of your 27 bullet points then they’re definitely not going to be listening to your sparkling anecdote.
- You will read from the screen. This is the biggest sin a presenter can make. Reading from your slides is an insult to your audience, it’s that simple. Imagine you’d just handed your boss a report, but instead of letting him/her read it, you began to read it word for word out loud, slowly. I’m guessing that wouldn’t end well for you. The other huge problem here is that you won’t be gaining eye contact with your audience, which is the best way of increasing engagement.
- Your presentation will be seen as poor. The result of all of the above is that your presentation will fall swiftly into the realms of mediocrity. But, given that most presentations are poor, mediocrity in the presentation world is not a place you want to be!
All you need to do is remember the golden rule of presenting – your presentation is NOT a document. Slides are there to support what you’re saying and to add a visual element, not to say it for you. So here are some guidelines to make that a reality:
- Use more pictures – we are inherently visual people, so using appropriate pictures can help add to our point or give it a different dimension (and crucially it’s hard to fit much text on a slide if we’ve got a ruddy great picture on it!).
- Don’t use full sentences – the moment you write a full sentence on a slide, you will feel compelled to read it word for word. As such, try using just one word that sums up the point that you are making. That way, you won’t forget to talk about it, but you will be the one adding value by what you’re saying. This also forces you to practise, which is the single biggest thing you can do to make yourself a much better presenter.
- Use a bigger font – a simple way of testing whether the text is big enough is to open your presentation on your computer, and then go and stand at least 10 feet away (3 metres for those of you who are metrically minded). If you’re struggling to read the text, you need to use a bigger font. If in doubt, make it bigger!
- Be wary of graphs and tables – these can quickly become very hard to read, so my advice would be to have only one table/graph per slide, and make it a big one. It’s much better to have three slides people can make out clearly, than one cluttered one that they can’t decipher.
- Use hand-outs – if you have lots of complex information that needs supporting data, then by all means give that to your audience, but give it to them in a hand-out and then provide the executive summary at the front. A little tip here would be to let them know they’ll be getting a hand-out, but don’t give it to them until you’re done, otherwise they’ll just be having a good old read and ignoring you while you’re up at the front doing your best to be engaging (I’ve made that mistake myself and it’s rather demoralising!).
If you do the above and couple it with a bit of practise, I guarantee that your presentations will improve radically. But don’t just take my word for it, ask for some feedback from your audience and you’ll soon see that you’re onto a winner. Before you know it your presentations will be well thought out, creative and engaging – not bad for just using a bigger font!