One of the most common complaints about any seminar or presentation is that the speaker has put a lot of text on a slide and is reading it out.  There really is no point to that.  If there is just a lot of text on a slide, the audience could easily have read this themselves.  That is not to say you shouldn’t have any slides (although this is possible). You should however really think about what the purpose of these slides is, how they support the delivery of your message and how they come across to the audience. To ensure you have supportive slides, consider the following:

Limit your words

As set our above, you absolutely what you are going to say onto a slide deck.  If you put text on a slide, the audience will inevitably read it (rather than listening to you).  The amount of text on slides should be limited as far as possible.

I once attended a seminar by a company who designed slides.  They proudly asserted that they could represent any information that needed to be conveyed in a visual format…and proved it.  For most seminars, you may not be able to pay someone to produce incredible slides for you. You can think about whether information can be represented visually. 

In property, we use maps, pictures and plans to explain something more clearly, yet these are often forgotten in seminars.  Likewise, showing statistics, timelines and processes graphically are far more likely to make them understandable and memorable. 

Remember that you are using these to explain something to your audience, so they should not be too complicated.  As with any form of speaking, why not ask for feedback. Ask someone not familiar with your topic whether what you are saying and how you are illustrating it is clear.

Check your tech

Another major complaint about slides accompanying seminars and presentations is that whatever is on the slides is totally unreadable.  This makes the slides a distraction. 

I’ve seen a few online seminars where the slides were not displayed properly, often with presenter view showing.  This means the slide itself does not take up much of the screen (so not readable) and the audience can see the next slide and presenter notes.  If you are using slides, make sure you’ve checked how they will appear to an audience.

Technology sometimes fails.  If it does, you must be able to present without the slides.  They therefore cannot act as your speaker notes (and shouldn’t).  Well-designed slides aid the presentation, they aren’t the whole point of it.

What should a slide be?

Supportive slides are there to help the audience understand.  As a presenter you should not need to look at them.  You should be looking at your audience.  And the audience should be listening to you, not reading your slides.

Less is more – in amount of text on a slide and also the number of slides.  One suggested rule of thumb is that there should be a maximum of one slide per minute you are speaking. If anything I’d suggest to go for fewer. 

I also advocate not having a slide showing when one isn’t needed.  If there is part of a presentation where you want all of the attention on what you are saying, don’t have anything on screen.  You can achieve this by turning off the slides (using a clicker / pressing B (black) or W (white) when presenting in PowerPoint or simply adding a blank slide to your presentation).

Ultimately make sure you’ve asked yourself – what am I helping the audience to understand with this slide?  Put yourself in their place – if you were listening to this presentation, would you find the slide engaging, understandable and helpful?

My top tips for effective and supportive slides:

  • Whatever you do, don’t fill slides with blocks of text which you simply read out.
  • Use photographs, maps, diagrams, graphs, etc to illustrate your points.
  • Make sure whatever is on the slide is clear when on screen.
  • Do not have too many slides (if it’s more than one per minute, it’s probably too much).
  • Don’t be afraid to have nothing on screen if a slide is not needed.

Overall – keep it simple, even when explaining the complicated.

Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash

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