A common misconception is that slides are the core of a presentation. In fact, lots of people describe giving a talk as “delivering their slides,” as if the slides are what matter, and they’re just onstage to click through them.
This is totally backwards! Wonderful though slides can be (and yes, they can be wonderful), you are not onstage to support them, they are on screen to support you — your ideas, your expertise, and your insights.
Still — whether you’re delivering a quick update or a formal presentation, a team huddle or a company-wide meeting — it can be hard to know what to say when you and your slides are competing for an audience’s attention.
One neat and efficient solution is to only put pictures on your slides, and save the words (all the words!) for yourself. But in business, that’s rarely realistic, because most businesspeople believe that…
“I Need to Put Information on My Slides”
In business, it is often good to put some facts, figures, and conclusions on the screen. The visual reinforcement helps people focus, and can help them better remember your talk.
But putting information in a slide is about the same as sending it by email, or passing around handouts. Nobody needs your help to read it, so your presence can become redundant.
How do you avoid this fate? How do you offer informative slides, but the keep the focus where it should be, on you?
You add value, by offering insights, explanations, and a point of view that your audience can’t get from just reading the bullet points or charts onscreen.
The first step to doing this, as it turns out, is to give your audience time to read a slide before you speak about it.
Add Value By Letting Them Read the Slide First
Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to hear when you close your eyes?
That’s because — for reasons that I don’t understand — our brains give primacy to information that comes through our eyes, not our ears.
What this means is that, if you click to a slide with lots of written information and immediately start talking, people will not hear you. In fact, they may be annoyed with you for interrupting their reading!
That’s why you should never start speaking about a new slide until your audience has taken a few seconds to look at it. (This post describes a dramatic and effective way to hold their attention while they’re reading.)
So let’s say you’ve taken that advice, clicked to your next slide, and paused to let your audience read it.
Now what do you do??
Now You Add Value!
Your audience has read the bullet points, charts, and/or graphs on your slide, and has probably figured out what your pictures represent.
To add value, you can do one or more of the following:
Summarize What They Just Read
Maybe the slide you just clicked to lists the 10 new accounts your sales team just won. After letting people read the list, you might say something like,
As you can see, Northeast Region was the big winner, with three of the five biggest new accounts. But the rest of you get kudos, too, because every region won a major new account this month.
Explain What They Just Read
Your not-for-profit is building a new playground for the local kids you serve. You’ve put the architect’s drawing on screen, but most of your audience won’t understand it.
What you’re seeing here is a birds-eye view of the playground, with our building in the lower right-hand corner. There are three kinds of lines on the page, corresponding to how each feature is going to get built. Wavy lines show you which items are going to be built by neighborhood volunteers. Those include….
Interpret What They Just Read
Let’s say that your slide contains a list of 6 projects that the CEO wants your IT department to complete by Q3.
Your audience has read the list, but they need your insights to understand what it means for them.
I want to say two things about this list of new projects: First, they’re not all as new as they look at first; four of them build on projects we’ve already completed. And second, our CEO understands that this is a stretch assignment. She wants to see what we do when we’re pushed, but she knows this is a very big ask.
Letting people know that you believe in them can add value far beyond the details:
Given all the great new business you brought in last month, we’re on track to make our bonus this year. But please don’t take that as permission to slack off, because I want you to get every penny you’ve worked so hard to earn.
Let Your Slides Do Their Job, and Add Value to Ace Yours!
Once you’ve created a good slide deck, you might feel that there’s nothing left for you to say, but this is almost never true!
If it is true — if you’ve put everything you could possibly say on the screen —start again and create a slide deck that supports you, instead of usurping your role as the speaker!
Remember: You are not the servant of your slides! (And by the way, that’s equally true of your script, if you wrote one.)
Your slides are there to anchor your audience’s attention while you do all the real work — adding context, insights, motivation, and value.