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Never Make a Slide Like This

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
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The slide shown below came up on my Twitter feed. I’m sure the intent was to share what the tweeter thought was a great idea.

Palmer Bad Slide 1
What jumped out at me wasn’t the idea but that the slide needed some major work. Too harsh? Maybe. The presenter is a well-meaning person with a great idea to share. But this slide is not good. There is no nice way to say it.

Here are the mistakes this presenter made—so you can avoid them in your next presentation.

(Backstory: Craig Cegielski shared this during a session at the 2017 MREA Annual Conference. You can see his presentation here, if you’re interested. I also want to note that not all of the slides are bad, which just illustrates that everyone can use a little editing sometimes.)

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Don’t Always Use Bullet Points

Why bullet points? They are totally unnecessary. There is no law that says all slides must have bullet points! This is a paragraph. If you want to show the first paragraph of a book you intend to write, then make this slide:
Palmer Bad Slide 2
In no way was the slide improved because of the bullets points. Likewise, in no way is it diminished because the bullet points have been removed.

Don’t Just Read at Your Audience

Why are you there? If every word is on a slide, you are unnecessary. You made yourself redundant. Write an article and hand it out. If, for some reason, you want your article in PowerPoint form, make slides like this one and send us the PowerPoint. No one wants to sit in a room and have presenters read at them. We know how to read. Plus, it is difficult to read text while listening. If you want the audience to read your article, be quiet and let them read without distraction.

But let’s say you want to visually present key points. If that’s the case, you don’t need fluff and filler. You need key words. You are there to speak. You can embellish as you talk. Look at the fluff on the slide:

Palmer Bad Slide 3
Cut the fat. Make it easier on the audience.
Palmer Bad Slide 4

Don’t Have Too Many Words on a Slide

Where did we get the idea that people come to presentations to read? Shouldn’t presentations be about presenting? About oral communication? Many people have made this point and fought to change the wordy, bullet-point mindset, yet the message hasn’t caught on. The core message ofour example slide is still buried in unnecessary words.
Palmer Bad Slide 5
Isn’t this the message attendees are supposed to get? Isn’t this the essence of the slide?
Palmer Bad Slide 6
We are making progress. No bullet points, a lot less fat, easier to read. But why should reading being involved at all?

Don’t Have Complete Sentences on a Slide

Key words only! You are there for a reason. You are there to present, to talk, to explain. Don’t have slides doing your job.
Palmer Bad Slide 7
Six words. Easy to see, easy to remember. And it conveys the essence of the message in the slide we that began with. The presenter will fill in the rest. If you were giving this presentation, orally add the story about how you came to believe this. Orally add the details about what to teach first, Orally explain how technical skills follow if the first parts are taught.

In other words, be a presenter, not a reading supervisor.

For more advice, check out Own Any Occasion. This book offers 11 steps for how to craft the perfect message and captivate audiences with exceptional delivery, no matter the circumstance.

About the Author
Erik Palmer is an author, speaker, and consultant from Denver, Colorado. He focuses on improving oral communication—whether one-on-one, small group, large group, informal or formal, in-person or digital—by sharing practical, understandable ideas that help all adults become effective speakers and teachers of speaking. Erik previously spent 10 years managing an office for a prominent commodity brokerage firm, where he was the national sales leader), and trading on the floor of a Chicago commodity exchange. He also taught in one of Colorado’s premier school districts for 21 years, and was named a Teacher of the Year. A frequent presenter at conferences, Erik has given keynotes and led workshops for adults across the United States and around the world. He is the author of the ATD Press book, Own Any Occasion, as well as Well-Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students, Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology, Teaching the Core Skills of Listening & Speaking, Researching in a Digital World , and Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning. Erik has a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and a master’s degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. 
15 Comments
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Great illustration to help get to the point!
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Succinct, to the point and to the message gets quicker to the action before memory fades.
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Very clear and accurate assessment of most of the problems presenters make. Thanks.
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