A slide show can be used to help your audience follow your talk but if you do not use it wisely it can all go very wrong.

Having watched and listened to a multitude of university and A’ Level open day and subject talks of varying quality over the last few months, I had so many ideas and thoughts as a result that I knew I had my next blog to write!

Being a trainer and a Microsoft PowerPoint trainer, I know a bit about giving presentations and these are my thoughts and ideas on the skills I have learnt over the years or have been taught by experts in the field. Of course, there is varying opinion on how best to present and any thoughts you have on any of this I would love to hear, I always love to learn and improve my own presentation skills.

Group listening to a presentation on a screen showing a clear and meaningful slide.

What is the point of a presentation?

Why would you want to do a presentation? This might be to sell a service, such as a University course or a product, or it might be to impart some knowledge, such as a training course or a short explanation. To be able to stand up and just talk to your audience takes a huge amount of skill to ensure they listen and take in everything you say, hence why after dinner speakers earn big money.

So, most of us decide to use other tools to help us put our message across. One of these tools, of course, is a slide show to help reiterate our point or help those that learn with pictures and graphics to retain the information. Even the best presenters I have watched use some sort of slide show in the background however simple it may be.

“In the background” is the most important point here. The slide show must not take over. A slide show is there to support your talk and not be the focal point.

This is easier when we are at a physical meeting where we stand at the front of the stage but not at all easy when we are presenting online where the screen share takes centre stage. So, the presentation needs extra thought to get this right.

As I mentioned a slide show is just one of the tools that presenters use to help their message to be understood. Whether you use Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote, Google Slides or other software these are also tools to help you create a slide show, and as with any tool if the user does not use it correctly then things can go wrong.

We have all heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint” which demonstrates PowerPoint’s popularity but it is unfair on PowerPoint. The phrase should really be “death by PowerPoint user” as it is the user of the software that gets it wrong.

Tips when using a slide show in your presentation

So here are a few tips I have gleaned over the years to help you get it right.

  • A slide show is there to support your presentation, not take over. The audience should be listening to you and not distracted.
  • Avoid complex backgrounds.
    Photos are OK for the title slide but not for a slide with bullet points, for example.
  • Keep the colours to a limited number, eg 2 simple complementary colours.
  • Position your logo at the top right of each slide so that left to right scanning means the slide title is read first.
    Use a slide master to ensure this is in the same place on each slide, so it does not jump about when you move to the next slide.
  • Use clear and simple titles.
    Think of the 4 second rule – can you see the message of the slide in one glance?
  • Do not display a load of text without giving the audience time to read it while you are not talking.
    Use animations to bring each bullet point or paragraph of text on to the slide and give the audience time to read it and then start explaining the point.
  • Allow your audience time to digest a graphic you are displaying and, if necessary, use animations to bring each part of the diagram on to the slide as you talk about it.
    You can use a laser pen or pen/highlighter annotations on the slide to highlight certain aspects of the graphic as you explain them.

Presentations vs Handouts

Don’t confuse the slide show you are using during your presentation with a slide show you are creating for handouts. These should be completely different files.

Often I see slide shows used during a talk that has everything thrown on to the slides because the slides are also acting as handouts. Both have totally different purposes and should be planned as such.

One should be designed with the audience in mind during the talk and the other should be designed with all the information you wish to give your audience after the talk. (Of course, there are varying methods you can use to create handouts and they don’t necessarily have to be done in a slide show application.)

Here is an example of a slide that was shown during a talk I recently watched and was a complete assault on our senses.

Example slide that is full of text and graphics making it difficult to follow the message of the slide.

The presenter carried on talking while this was displayed. Do you think we heard anything they said at this point? And, of course, what they were saying didn’t follow the bullet points displayed. This slide might be great as a handout to read later but did not help the presenter put the message across during the talk in any way. The audience was probably drifting away thinking about the great Louis Theroux documentaries they had watched or the TV programmes they were going to watch that evening.

The presenter would have got away with this slide if each aspect had been animated so that it was displayed while they were talking about each point, and if the last bullet point had not been obscured.

Always, always think about your audience. If you were in the audience would you follow what was being said, would you remember it, would you be distracted? Put yourself in their shoes and work your presentation around them.

If you use Microsoft PowerPoint and would like to learn how to put all the above into practice I provide 1 hourly online workshop courses. Call me on 01923 750200 or email me at susan@rabbittraining.com for more information.