the presenter is saying.
So commit to doing
your slides right, or
don’t do any slides at
all. Presenters who
have little time to prepare (and many of us
fit this profile) would
be better off focusing
on more important
tasks, such as planning
the presentation, structuring its content and
practicing its delivery.
We probably all remember great presentations that did not rely on slides; I certainly do, and on technical topics, too.
In contrast, a presentation is unlikely to
be effective if it is not well planned, well
structured and well delivered. There lie
the priorities. Slides are optional.
The first step toward
slides is actually to
delay the moment you
move to PowerPoint
or other slideware.
Work out your story
to tell your audience
with this illustration
(the so what), you
must clarify your
point, typically both
in the slide’s title and
on the illustration.
The first step
toward creating effective slides in a reasonable amount of time
is actually to delay the
moment you move to
PowerPoint or other
Slides can be powerful
Of course, when well designed, slides
are a powerful presentation aid. At their
most effective, they each get a message
across on their own, unambiguously,
yet without distracting from the spoken
content. If audience members miss the
presenter’s spoken point for any reason,
they should be able to get it by taking
one look at the screen. Conversely, if they
miss the point on a slide, they should be
able to get it by listening to the presenter.
This redundancy between the two channels is a solid strategy toward compensating for unavoidable transmission losses.
For it to work well, the two channels
should interfere constructively and not
detract from one another: Looking at
a slide should not prevent the audience
from listening to the presenter at the
slideware. Work out your story first—on
paper. Once you have identified your
main message, decide how you can best
support it with two to five main points.
Then see how you can develop each main
point in two to five subpoints. Next,
turn each subpoint into a statement: a
complete sentence (subject and predicate)
expressing what you want your audience to understand about and remember
from that subpoint. Prune each of these
statements down to 12–15 words or less.
Now, and only now, you are ready to
start creating slides.
Slides are for
A simple way to check whether your
slides stand on their own is to submit
them to a test viewer, such as a friend
or colleague. Refrain from giving any
explanation and ask your viewer to let
you know, for each slide, whether both
the what and the so what are clear. If he
or she cannot figure out what an illus-
tration is (the what), you must clarify
it, perhaps by adding labels. If he or she
cannot figure out what you are trying
With each slide, strive to get one mes-
sage across. State the message in the
title of the slide. This message is the
short statement you have prepared for
that subpoint: a complete sentence
expressing the so what, not a noun
phrase describing what is on the slide.
Make sure it fits on a maximum of two
lines at a reasonably large font size (alter-
natively, choose the font size so titles can
routinely accommodate 12–15 words
on two lines); if it is too long, prune
further, possibly by moving some items
of information to the rest of the slide,
but keep a complete sentence. Then
develop this message on the rest of the
slide, as visually as possible. If you think
you need both text items and a graph, for
example, make the graph central. That
is, do not add the graph to illustrate the
text, as you would in a written docu-
ment; instead, use the text to clarify
the graph. Whatever you include, focus
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