By Karen Friedman
March 31, 2011
Brian Fugere and several co-authors wrote a great book titled: “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots,” a look at the frightening world of corporate speak. I would like to suggest a sequel called: “Why Business People Create Slides that Put You to Sleep.”
You’ve seen these people. You’ve probably been in their audiences. They have 495 slides that they read to you one by one in a monotone voice with no facial expression and expect you to follow along in a font that even your ophthalmologist couldn’t translate.
For starters, most of us can read by ourselves, thank you very much. Secondly, assuming we can read, maybe the presenter should just send us the slides and spare us the presentation?
Am I being too sarcastic? Perhaps. But I spend most of my time coaching people through presentations and critical meetings for which they’ve spent a lot of time designing and perfecting slides, but little if any time thinking through their message. Creating slides is not communicating. According to the dictionary, communicate means to “converse,” to “impart,” or to “connect.” The only thing connective about most slide shows is the plug that you stick into the socket to make the projector run.
So, what’s a presenter to do?
Before you create a single slide, think about what you want to say. What do you want people to think, do, know or feel when you’re done speaking? If the slides crashed, could you still tell the story? If your answer is no, then your message is muddled and you don’t truly own your material. Write your talk first and then create slides that reinforce what you’re saying instead of using your slides as a script.
Next, Talk, Don’t Read.
Reading is for the eye. Listening is for the ear. It’s important to create slides that speak in phrases, not sentences so you talk instead of read. Eliminate words such as, if, the, in, on, and of. Instead, use three to five words per line to reinforce what you’re saying so people listen to you instead of reading the slide. Look for opportunities to reveal the lines to prevent people from reading ahead so you focus their attention where you want it.
Don’t Put Everything on the Slide!
What works in print doesn’t always translate to slides. Your job is to help listeners make sense of information. If you cram too much on the slide, they’ll be reading item Z while you’re still talking about item A. Instead of cutting and pasting data from a study, create colorful charts, graphs and pictures that highlight data, evoke emotion and make the information more relevant. That’s what listeners remember.
Think “headline.” Look at each slide and ask: “What’s the headline and what does it mean to the people in the room?” Then think about how to walk them through the information. For example: “Look at the purple box on the left compared with the yellow box on the right. It’s nearly double the size. That means we’ve doubled our profits.” While every slide doesn’t have to stand on its own, it must have a reason for being there such as setting up a point or driving home a message.
We Don’t Do It That Way Here
Just because others drone on doesn’t mean you have to be boring too. Think of every presentation as a huge opportunity to inform, persuade or sell your point of view. If a slide set has been designed for you, you should still look for ways to personalize the information and create moments that audiences remember. If you are required to present every single slide, that doesn’t mean you have to read every point. Provide an overview and tell the audience that details will be available in written form later.
Hit Them Over the Head
Your first few words determine whether your audience tunes in or out. So why do people need a slide to tell the audience what they are going to talk about? Don’t they know why they’re here? When you open your mouth, hit them over the head with a story or example that engages and grabs attention so they understand why they should care? Ask what’s in it for them?
Finally, create slides for people in the back of the room. Use color, big fonts and contrast. Remember, every time you speak, you’re on! Look for ways to stand out and set the bar a bit higher so people will look forward to hearing what you have to say… and will hear you!
Karen Friedman is a professional communication coach and speaker who serves as president of Karen Friedman Enterprises (www.karenfriedman.com). Her techniques to help business professionals become more powerful persuasive communicators have been applied on four continents. She is the author of “Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listener” (Praeger 2010) and a contributing author to “Speaking of Success: World Class Experts Share Their Secrets.”