Fading into Sameness: How Too Many Slides Can Ruin Your Presentation

"I have a love/hate relationship with PowerPoint. In the right hands, it's a great presentation tool. In the wrong hands (and unfortunately, most usage falls into this category) we are cloning generations of boring slide shows narrated by speakers we barely notice." - Debbie Bailey

Ah, the good old days. For me, those were the days before PowerPoint slide shows became the norm for virtually every business presentation given in corporate America. I fondly remember the days when presenters spoke passionately about a subject near and dear to their heart without having to display every single thought on a slide. I often reminisce back to the time when 80 slides for a 20 minute presentation was NOT the standard, when presenters weren't just slide narrators, when preparing for a presentation meant more than putting together your slide show.

Now don't get me wrong, I know the advantages of using a few good slides, however, I also know that too much of a good thing is, well, BAD. I subscribe to Bill Wheless' philosophy about PowerPoint "It's like alcohol in the hands of a drunk. What we need is moderation." Somehow, we must learn to use, but not abuse, slides. If we don't, we risk looking and sounding like every other boring business presenter. Worst of all, we become forgettable.

Think about the last presenter who strongly affected you. More than likely that presenter used very few, if any, slides. The most memorable presenters rely on their delivery style to make their point, rather than a well designed slide deck.

When I first began teaching presentation skills more than 20 years ago, I struggled to convince presenters to incorporate the use of visual aids. My how the world has changed.

Today, convincing presenters to rely less on their slides and more on their dynamic communication skills is even harder. It's almost as if presenters believe that all it takes to deliver a successful presentation is a good slide deck. Unfortunately, when asked to prepare a presentation, presenters spend the vast majority of their time working on their slides, rather than on perfecting their delivery style.

Consider for a moment why political candidates and presidents DON'T use slides. My guess is, they don't want to divert any attention away from themselves. They understand what Roger Ailes, author of the famous book "You Are the Message" has known for quite some time. "For those who want to succeed, there is only one secret. YOU ARE THE MESSAGE."

Generally, here's what happens when you overuse slides:

1. Your slides lose their ability to make an impact- Essentially, slides become the white noise in the presentation, so constant that they are no longer noticeable.

2. The audience focuses on your slides, rather than on you. If 55% of your communication power comes from your body and face (based on the universally accepted research by Albert Mehrabian), than NOT having the audience focused on you diminishes about half of your POWER as a presenter. Can you really afford to cut your personal power in half?

3. You are demoted to the position of slide narrator. The slides take center stage and like the narrator of a play, you are the anonymous voice coming from somewhere in the background.

Just as too many slides can detract from your success as a presenter, having a few well designed slides can strengthen your impact. Consider these quick tips designed to help improve your use of slides:

1. Develop your presentation first, then determine where a visual might help the audience better understand your message. This is a much safer approach than developing your slides first.

2. Try to boil your presentation down to six or fewer important slides that speak to the heart of your message. Make sure that each slide you chose complies with the 6 x 6 rule-no more than six lines of text with six words on each line.

3. Better yet, make the impact of your slides visual, rather than verbal (words written on slides). The best slides arouse the audience visually so take a creative approach to translating words into meaningful pictures.

Rest assured that it's not that I am anti slides-I am pro YOU! While slides do serve an important function, even the best designed slide can't compete with the power of YOU. YOU are the greatest visual aid of all! Take the focus OFF the slides and put it back where it belongs- squarely on YOU! Invest the time you might have spent on your slides on your delivery practice and rather than fading into sameness, you will STAND APART from the rest!

(c) Debbie Bailey, 2004

Debbie Bailey is a well-regarded Presentation Skills Training Consultant and founder of Trainer2go Inc. For more information about Debbie go to trainer2go.com">http://trainer2go.com.

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