It’s early morning. You’re at a conference. You decide to take in a conference talk.
After sitting through the first few minutes, you start to regret your decision. Your eyelids start getting heavy, and before you know it…
I know I’m not the only one who has fallen asleep during a presentation. A major reason? The slides. Here are some tips to get your slides in tip-top shape.
“Death by PowerPoint” almost exclusively refers to slides that are chock full of text. You know what happens when slides are full of text? The speaker reads them. If speakers are reading the slides, they’re not engaging the audience. How can you engage someone if you’re looking at a screen? The audience reads the slides, too. If they’re reading the slides, they’re not listening to the speaker. And if they’re not listening to the speaker, they’re not being engaged by the speaker. You might as well call it “public reading” and not public speaking at that point. No matter how you slice it, too much text isn’t helpful.
If you have text on the slide, limit it to 5 bullet points MAX, with preferably one word per bullet. Ever heard of cognitive load? Simply put, it means that we can only take in so much information at a time. Too much text can overload the brain.
Even better? Use pictures. Not only are pictures more interesting to look at, but the speaker also eliminates the option for the audience to read the slides. They now can either listen or ignore.
How many of you have sat through a presentation and not been able to read the slides because there’s little contrast between the text and the slide background? Yellow text on a white slide? You try reading that from the back of a room. Or the front, for that matter. I know that people often try to get fancy with the slides, but there’s nothing wrong with black text on a white background. It’s easy to read. Regardless of the color choice, ensure that the text is readable on the background from a few feet away.
Can’t stand it when presenters try to get too cute with their font choice? There are so many fonts to choose from. Pick one that’s easy to read. The frilly calligraphy type fonts? Ditch them. They’re hard to read even if you’re seated up front. Arial? Times New Roman? Oldies but goodies.
One last tip. If you have a chart, table, or any other pictorial depiction on a slide, make the slide’s title what you want people to take away from the chart or table. For instance, if you have a chart that shows that concentration decreases over time, make the title of the slide “Concentration decreases over time.” The audience will know right away what you want to convey. After that, they’re free to listen, knowing what the slide is about.
Neil Thompson is an engineer, patent agent, speaker, and writer. He also has a YouTube channel where he interviews STEM professionals who engage in public speaking.
Follow Neil Thompson on Twitter@teachthegeek