After spending countless hours doing the work that’s now summed up in our presentation, we know our material inside and out. Come show time, however, our nerves sometimes get the better of us and we fall back on that decades-old practice of reading our slides. In the example given in the figure, poor Stan commits an even worse offense: reading his title slide. He’d been introduced, and people attended his session based on a title and abstract. What on that title slide did the audience not already know? And what’s with the qualifier, “For those of you who don’t know me…?” Is his name different for those who do know him?
It’s not enough to know your stuff
Reducing unproductive nervousness when presenting to an audience comes with experience and practice, but there is one thing we can do to immediately to give better presentations with less nervousness: make better slides. We’ve certainly heard that we, not our slides, are the show. Yet we continue to create slides as if we’re afraid we’ll forget something.
1. Put a “bottom line” at the top of every slide
Every slide should have a title that is a declarative statement that points to the purpose of the slide. That’s your bottom line, and it’s the ONE thing you want your audience to read. Everything you say is then interpreted in that context.
For those who say word choice is important, I agree, BUT it’s a distant third on the list of what people get from you. Foremost is body language, followed by tone of voice. Often it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Having your bottom line up front assures your meaning is not lost or misconstrued.
2. Show you have depth
Another good rule is to not put everything you know on your slides. Definitely don’t put everything you want to say on your slides. If you glance at the screen for reference, you’ll never find what you want anyway. You may find the sentence you want, but then you’ll probably read it! People hate being read to. As soon as your audience figures out you’re reading (which takes seconds), they’ll read ahead and tune you out.
Audience members can read for themselves. If it’s on your slide, they will read it. The more there is to read, the less they’re watching and listening to you. By reducing what they read, you increase their attention on you, and you eliminate a crutch to lean on when you get nervous. It turns your slides into tools you use more effectively.
3. Have white space
Write as few words as possible that still provide order to your presentation. This results in less crowded slides with more open space. When you turn to look, you won’t stay focused on your slide because the words you need to say aren’t there–they’re in your head. The slide becomes an outline, a framework, a loose guide to your actual presentation.
If you’ve just created a set of bullet points, review them and think critically; is each unique, or can you combine items because concepts are similiar? Then start deleting words. Eliminate everything unnecessary. You also don’t need complete sentences; fragments are fine. Look at your slide yet again and delete even more, keeping only the key concepts and points necessary to guide discussion.
If you have any adverbs remaining, delete them now. Adverbs describe how something happened. “How” is an element of story that you should tell. Leaving them out lets you tell your audience what happened and how, rather than letting them read it from your slide.
Some of the best slides are those with diagrams you use to illustrate a point. Words should be few and there to help the audience follow what you say. Your diagram may be self-explanatory, but until you give your explanation, viewers won’t know for sure. Good illustrations and diagrams are tools you use, and a perfectly good reason to focus on the slide as you point to features on behalf of your viewers.
These are only a few ideas for improving your slides to help put more of you into your presentations. Try them and let me know how they work for you.
Thanks for reading! @tomspiglanin
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