Smashing Presentation Myths – part four

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Myth Four – Word slides help an audience remember your message

I referred to the use of bulleted notes to help you deliver in my last blog – referring to hard copy prompts which can help you to stay on track when you present to larger audiences. In this post, I want to correct the very common misuse of word slides. My suggestion is that word slides are simply notes for a presenter, and have very little value for the audience.

In fact, I believe word slides generally detract from a presentation rather than enhancing it.

I say this for two reasons:

Firstly because, it is not possible for anyone to read a slide on the screen whilst listening simultaneously to a person speaking. By using two delivery means together, you are expecting your audience to multi-task – and that means that they will only hear a proportion of what is being said, and only see a proportion of what is on the screen. They won’t get the message twice – they get 50% of both, if you are lucky.

Presenters who compete with slides generally lose, because an audience will believe they can read the content of a slide faster than a presenter can say it.  Even though I suspect most people reading this will agree with this (we have all been there) very few presenters I watch seem to do anything about it.  This is the step up that great communicators practise – in order to get an audience to listen to you, you simply need to take away the distraction you are providing – and remove all word slides from your presentation!

Second – the way our brains think means that reading words on a screen, rather than hearing them spoken, does not help us remember the ideas being transmitted. In order to remember an idea, we take words we have heard, or read, and create associations in our mind – forming images which we then store away.  So whether you hear or see the words makes little difference. In fact, it could be argued that hearing words is more likely to help create images – as tone and inflection can add “colour” to an idea – whereas words on a screen are flat.

My advice is reasonably simple.  I advise my clients to use a background slide or blank slide on screen whilst they are talking to an audience, and hard copy prompts to help them deliver – allowing the audience to look at you and listen to you without distraction.

I would also advise only using slides containing images, graphics and charts to illustrate your points where necessary. Visual material should reinforce your words, not repeat them. A very good reason to use a visual image, rather than words, is to achieve consistency of message. You will rarely achieve consistency if you use words on a screen, which can be interpreted independently by each member of an audience – but show your audience a picture – and they will all remember the same image.

If you would like an illustration of this technique – look at the TED talk by Morgan Spurlock. There is plenty of visual material on show during his talk– but most of the time he has blank slides up to make sure he is the centre of attention. As a result, he achieves significant impact and “owns the room” – something presenters who use word slides as prompts will rarely achieve.  I hope you enjoy it!