Tips for using slides in presentations

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If you're like most people, you don't love giving presentations. And if you are someone who is expected to use slides, there is a good chance your audience doesn't love your presentations, either.

In my opinion, PowerPoint (the primary software used for presentations in corporate settings) can be useful to illustrate your points--but it can also be mind-numbing if used poorly.

Here are a few tips that will help you shine when you use slides:

  • Don't read your slides; it's the kiss of death for your presentation. Your audience will think, "Why is he reading to us? Why not just give us a handout?"
If you are worried about forgetting what you want to say, print out your slides and write your notes along the side.  No one cares if you glace down at a piece of paper in your hand. Don't write your notes in full sentences--just a word or two will be enough to help you remember what you want to say.

  • Limit your slides to approximately five per fifteen minutes. If you have many more than that, you are packing too much information into your presentation. The focus should be on the value you bring--stories, examples and interaction with the audience. If you have too many slides the information washes over the audience and they glaze over. And when your audience is faced with choosing between listening to you talk and looking at your word-heavy slides, they will end up being distracted and read your slides instead of listening to you.
If you feel you must deliver a large amount of information in a short period of time, consider handing out the technical background information in an appendix and only present the information that is critical. If you don't want them to read while you are talking, pass out your handout at the end.

  • If you are going to be talking about one slide for a long period of time, and you want the focus to be on you--or perhaps there is an audience activity or discussion--you can blank out the screen by hitting the "b" key. When you are ready to resume, hit the "b" key again and the screen will l reappear.
  • When possible, opt for illustrating your point with a photo or other graphic, instead of a list of bullet points. Bullet points are overdone and aren't remembered as much as a picture or graph.
  • A good rule of thumb is to never lecture for more than 10 minutes without getting some form of audience engagement.  Audiences are used to being entertained by frequent image changes on television and on their mobile devices, so listening to a speaker drone on is going to bore them. They want to engage with you, even if it's only through an occasional question to get some brief dialogue.
  • And the more you can pull them in and get them to talk the more they will like your presentation. In fact, I recommend that you only develop enough material to fill 60-75% of your time, so you can get the audience involved, and not feel rushed.
  • Don't use slides to teach a process. You will be more effective if you can draw it out on a board, or a flipchart, as you are explaining it. You can make the process come alive with arrows, pictures and examples.
  • Don't use slides to explain how to use a manual, or build something. Think about the outcome you are trying to achieve and match the technique to the outcome. For example, to show a group how to use a manual, give them copies of the manual and then give them scenarios and let them use the manual to find the answer or information.
  • Limit your slide to one or two main points. Any more than that and you are going to lose them. For instance, I recently was coaching someone who had eight bullet points showing the detailed calculation on a cost saving product improvement. When I asked her what the audience cared about on this slide, she said, "That we reduced costs by 5%." She agreed that that simple message was all she needed to say on that slide.
  • Finally, don't let the slides do the talking--you should do the talking. Recently, I was helping a client prepare for a big speech to his distributors. He was reading the points on his slides and then elaborating a bit after each point. He looked and sounded stiff. When I asked him to turn off his slides and just talk to me like he would to any one of his distributors, he became animated and interesting and engaged me in a robust conversation. Fortunately, I had the camera taping the whole thing. He redid his entire presentation--with slides that supported the second, conversational version. Needless to say, it was a hit.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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