The S word! We need to talk slides. No matter what software you use, the same principles apply. The power of bad slides is strangely addictive. The problem is that people can read an article like this, or come to a day-long presentation course and say (or secretly think) "I’ll just use my old slides again" completely ignoring what they’ve been taught and experienced.
People get drawn back to their old, often Death-by-PowerPoint, slides like an gambler gets drawn back into the betting shop. It sounds over-dramatic but it is true, I’ve seen it. Great slides in a nutshell: To get great slides you have to first of all STOP and ask the question, who are slides for? Once you have answered that question it changes everything. Slides are for your audience, they are not for you as a speaker, they are not a script or a crutch, they are for the audience and therefore you should design them with the audience in mind.
What would you like to see on slides as an audience member?
I guarantee that it won’t be loads of bullet points. Bullets kill presentations. No one has ever laid on their death bed and said "you know, I wish I had seen more bullet points".
Bullet points are there because people have taken a PDF sales brochure and made it into slides and that’s how they do their talks, they read out of their brochure, because that’s what bad slides are. Nobody likes them, the only bullet point I ever use is in a quiz I do during a long workshop situation. I don’t ever use them for anything else — there are always alternatives to bullet points.
Use more images and less text. Don’t just think about cutting and pasting, don’t think about writing endless text.
‘Death-by-Powerpoint’ = boring slides and endless bullets points that add nothing to the talk and act as a written script to the speaker.
I’m sure you’ve seen it in action!
If you are in a business, use images of your customers who are happy with your product. If you work for a charity, show your charity in action, show what you do (you can always blur out faces and show people without showing their faces, there are a lot of creative ways of making things anonymous), but ultimately get more full screen images on your slides, that is what people want — less text more quality images.
Once you have learned to prepare and deliver presentations in a different way, before each one always stop to ask the question "Do I need slides?"
Most people never ask that question.
Most talks can benefit from good slides, but some talks just don’t need slides at all.
When I have spoken at events or where it wasn’t possible to have slides, it wasn’t the end of the world. Even though I like good slides, I still delivered well. Restraint is required Don’t do the default. Don’t just do what you have always done. If you have always used slides, you have to stop and challenge yourself, "even though this is what I have always done — I am not going to do it that way anymore" — walk away.
That’s what this article is for, to get you away from your default bad habits and into something new and creative to help you to engage an audience.
So, don’t just do the default, don’t open the software then click ‘new document’ and start doing title and bullet points, title and bullet points. You can change your default action, read the preparation section and go analogue first.
You are a designer.
Everything you put on a slide is a design choice, the font, the size of the font whether it’s bold, italic or regular. The background too. Whether you put a photograph on there or not. These are all design choices so take responsibility, whether you like it or not you are a designer, so learn some basic design rules.
The easiest rule to learn is to ‘think billboard not document’, so design slides as if they were billboards not an A4 Word document like most people do. You design the slides for the person on the back row, can they see your slides? If they can your design will be simpler and clearer.
The big problem.
The issue isn’t that slides have become harder to make, it is the opposite, they have become easier to make and that’s our fundamental problem. In the 70’s and 80’s to have a transparency/slide done you would have to design it, have it sent away and then developed. Or you’d have had to have an acetate/overhead projector slide, tape a frame around it, write on it and do some coloured hand drawing on it! Now it’s so easy we just open up the software and just start putting text on it instantly. Just because it’s easy it doesn’t mean that we should do it.
The big challenge.
If you are a slide addict then I challenge you, take a risk. I dare you to speak without slides next time. If you have never ‘presented naked’ in your life then I dare you to do it, speak without slides, but keep your clothes on! Every now and again I go ‘sans slides’ myself to keep fresh and to help me understand that it is about me engaging with an audience, it is about connection, it is not about my fancy fonts and the nice photograph I have just found.