Giving Good Presentations

As I sit here watching a presentation given via WebEx, I find myself rather critical of the presenter’s style. Although the presentation is good, this presenter seems to be plagued by the same problem I see in the majority of the presentations I attend — he is using the presentation itself as presenter notes, i.e. he is essentially reading from a number of well-written but overly-detailed slides.

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Although there are advantages to being overly verbose in slides (easier to take notes; audience can easily review; presenter doesn’t really have to know what s/he is talking about), these are vastly outweighed by the disadvantages. I’ll enumerate:

  1. Word-heavy slides make it more difficult for the audience to pay attention (because they are too busy reading slides).
  2. It takes away from the credibility of the presenter, often giving the appearance that s/he can only explore central ideas with the aid of notes and prompting.
  3. It tends to stifle creative exploration of tangential points. Overly detailed slides leave the presenter — and the audience — less opportunity to ask questions and brainstorm outside the framework of the prefabricated topics.
  4. It makes presentations boring and uninteresting. When everything is laid out point by point by point, audiences often feel that they could as easily glean the critical points by reading a PDF as by having someone read to them.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the tendency. As some of you may have figured out, I tend to be rather verbose myself. However, I’ve learned to save that verbosity for my live presentation, rather than my presentation slides.

Slides in a presentation should guide a discussion, not contain it. In my humble opinion, the best way to ensure this is by keeping the information in each slide to a bare minimum.

Use your slides to remind yourself of talking points — give yourself, and your audience, little or nothing to read. In the end, the audience will remember more, like you better, and get more context from the discussion than they ever would from your typical “guided lecture”-presentation.

3 Responses to “Giving Good Presentations”

  1. Adam Says:

    I use really verbose slides because conferences often make your slides available after the fact. So my slides end up being a balance of outline and not too long. Sucks. Tom Peters, the management guru, now shares two sets of slides for each talk: the one he gives, and an extended outline version with stuff he talks about but didn’t want to bullet point.

  2. lewis Says:

    Simple solution - use the “notes” feature in powerpoint. Use the slide itself to convey visually the information you’re trying to impart (per information theory, most knowledge is more quickly learned visually), and then use the “notes” feature to include the verbose bullet-pointed stuff you discuss about the slide and its points. This gives you best of both of Tom Peters “two sets of slides,” which I find crazy - just send one set…. everyone can read the notes if they choose, and the presenter can use them during the session itself. One of the few cases where Microsoft actually improved a product :-)

  3. Gary Says:

    When I was teaching, we had to leave a copy of the presentation with all testable information for the students. The way I worked it so as to avoid having either 800 slides or twenty sentences per slide was to use the Notes feature of Powerpoint (it’s what I had to use) and print out the notes/slides as combined pages for the students to review outside of class.

    Most of the other instructors just made presentations with 800 slides.

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