Slide Decks: Dazzling or Drowsy?

By Cindi Trainor |

Death by Powerpoint.  You’ve seen it; we’ve all been there. You saunter into a conference session, drawn in by the succinct abstract, the scintillating topic.  It only takes a scant few minutes to decide you’ve made a terrible mistake, that it does not matter what words come out of the speaker’s mouth: if you don’t leave immediately, snoozing will ensue.

Here are some tips to transform your slides from a crutch into what they’re supposed to be: a visual aid.

1. Prepare on paper. Starting with a PowerPoint outline is an easy way to create slides that look like... well, a PowerPoint outline.  With audience and topic in mind, brainstorm what you want to say, then organize related ideas into three or four categories.  Chances are that your audience will remember only a few things from your presentation: what should those things be?

2. Parse out your allotted time.  How much introduction does your topic need?  How much time should be left for questions?  Are you sharing the time with another presenter?  These two things can bookend your major points.  Breaking your allotted time down this way will help you plan how much time to devote to each of your points.

3. Only after you know what you’ll say is it time to sit down in front of PowerPoint.  Create a blank slideset of 5-10 slides, one for your introduction, each of your points, and a final slide inviting questions or for displaying contact information.  Add slides as necessary, to help illustrate the topic.  There is no magic number or formula here; do what feels right.

4. Keep in mind that slides should illustrate your point, not state it.  Using text sparingly and illustrating with a pleasing image (licensed for reuse through Creative Commons, of course) is a good way to accomplish this.  Once you find an image, use a tool like Color Hunter to identify a complementary palette.

5. If creating a presentation in PowerPoint outline form is just the way you roll, go for it.  But use this as a handout for your audience rather than as the visual accompaniment to your talk. 

6.  While the audience is reading the words on the slide, they are not listening to you.  If text is essential to making a point, pause to let the audience read.  It’s ok!

What other tips for preparing and delivering a presentation do you use?

Illustration “Death by Presentation” courtesy Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig.