Avoid This One Thing in Your Presentations

Avoid This One Thing in Your Presentations

It’s a really simple concept but difficult to execute in practice. You start creating your slide deck and find yourself doing it again. The temptation is always there, but you have to avoid it.

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Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

It’s a really simple concept but difficult to execute in practice. You start creating your slide deck and find yourself doing it again. The temptation is always there, but you have to avoid it.

Use. Fewer. Words.

Now, you can use plenty of words in your talk. In fact, you want the audience hanging on your every word. However, we want to avoid lots of words on the screen in front of your audience. A general rule to follow is no more than 30 words on any individual slide. This may seem like a difficult constraint at first, but it will soon become second nature.

You may be asking the value of following this seemingly arbitrary rule. A common inclination is to get all the information you want to convey up there on the screen. What better way to communicate, right? Its all there for the audience to see. That is the temptation. Don’t fall into the trap though.

Why is that? Consider that people read much faster than you can talk. The audience will finish reading your slide content while you are still talking. What happens then? Are they going to continue to listen to you tell them something that they just read? You risk losing their interest, and it only takes a moment to get lost in social media. We’ve all done it.

Presentations vs. documents

Large volumes of words are much better suited for documents. Whitepapers, handouts, or other documentation provides a great mechanism for providing that level of information. You still need to convince people to read those documents. Before that though, you want your audience to walk away from your presentation with the key messages. Instill in their minds the most important things you want to say.

Think about talks you have attended in the past. Do you remember every detail still? Probably not. You probably have a few key impressions or takeaways that stood out to you. So are lots of details bad? Of course not. Few arguments are accepted without some level of supporting detail. “Organize and prioritize” is your objective when deciding what content goes in the slide vs. supplemental material.

You want to craft and deliver a compelling talk that leads your audience to the call to action. That may be making a decision on the spot, or it may be moving in that direction, following up with a discussion, or reading the additional materials. If the audience absorbed the key takeaway, then you have positioned yourself for success.

Presentation slides are a visual medium

Ideally, you want content on the screen that contains a compelling visual and a short note that highlights two things to the audience:

  1. Why they should care about this topic or visual
  2. Why they should invest more time and energy to listen to what you have to say about it.

business visual-design graphic-design presentations-skills persuasion

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