Wednesday, April 23, 2014

From NASCAR slides to "Any questions?": 8 kinds of slides to delete right now

Lately, I've been coaching several speakers getting ready for industry conferences--hired either by their companies, or the conference organizers. As a result, I've spent an enormous amount of time telling speakers to ditch slide after slide after slide.

This alarms the speakers (and their assistants and interns) no end. Some see the slide deck as a shield against forgetting a point or having to speak without giving the audience something else to look at. Some plan fully on reading them aloud, reducing the slide to a cue card and the audience to a read-along experience. One confessed that the slides she submitted reflected "thinking out loud" about all the things she wanted to say, but that she then couldn't bring herself to omit them once they were created, even though her presentation was just five minutes.

They'd better not try that in the boardrooms of LinkedIn or Amazon, where the CEOs have banned slides from presentations, joining the ranks of scientific teams, military units and even the Central Intelligence Agency in the U.S. as places where PowerPoint isn't allowed. The main reason? The audiences engage better, attendance goes up, and the discussion is of a higher quality.

Even if you're not ready to give up slides altogether, let's agree: It's far too easy to turn your slide deck into a dense layer of igneous rock instead of a tool that will help illuminate your points. If you're short on time, or just interested in a cleaner, clearer, clutter-free presentation that better engages your audience, omit these slides:
  1. Your title slide: The title of your presentation is in the program, on the sign outside the door, and in the podcast/social media post/press release for the conference. If you're being introduced, it will come out of the mouth of the introducer. We don't need to see it on the slide in addition to all that. Save it for when you distribute copies or publish your slides independently on the web, but don't show it in your live presentation. 
  2. Your bio: Make the introducer do her job and leave it out of your deck. No introducer? Introduce yourself verbally, no slide needed.
  3. Today's report: Don't tell us what you're going to tell us, an antiquated set of instructions for military field instructions rather than slide presentations. Again, an early verbal outline will do.
  4. Charts no one can actually read: Unless this part of your presentation is about how bad overly complicated charts are, do not include charts that make people squint. Saying, "You probably can't see this, but..." and pointing to a particular section do not, in fact, aid our understanding.
  5. A thank-you slide: Thank yous are most effective when they come from the heart and from your lips, not from your slides. Pepper those thank-yous throughout the presentation at the appropriate moments, rather than loading them up at the end or beginning. They'll mean more. "This is the part of our research where our lab assistants really had a chance to shine..."
  6. The "Any questions?" slide: Repeat after me: "And now I'd be delighted to answer any questions you may have." Again, no slide needed.
  7. The NASCAR slide: Named because it resembles the race-car drivers' jackets loaded up with logos, you may call this slide "our partners," "examples from industry," or something else. But I call it a NASCAR slide. Expressing your points in logos does not actually make them clearer, and loading ALL the logos on one slide doesn't actually feature your partners. Instead, work them into your presentation where they belong, just like thank-yous. "And this phase of the project got some much-needed help from...." or "No one else would have funded this aspect of the project but..." are better acknowledgments. 
  8. Slides that exist only because you use one slide per point: Put some mystery and interest back in your presentation and prove that you're not using them as cue cards. Use slides only for points you cannot make any other way. Need a slide in that spot so you don't advance too far? Insert black slides where you just want to talk, a tip that applies for any slide I've omitted in this list.
If your rationale for a well-packed slide deck is "it will make a great handout," bear in mind that research shows that only shorter slide decks actually get read. The longer the deck, the less likely your audience will flip through it later, let alone sit through it. This may seem like a painful exercise, but you can thank me after you get a standing ovation for your crisper, on-time presentation.