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6 Ways to Put Audiences to Sleep With Your Presentations

by Matthew Stevenson
featured, money & life

Sometimes our intuition fails us when it comes to creating decks that grab (and keep) attention. Other times we just need a new way of looking at our presentation technique to shake us out of bad habits.

Here are some great guidelines on how to ensure that you are heard, understood, and remembered without inducing boredom in your audience.

1. Accidentally design a handout instead of a slide deck

Oops! Not again! Your glorious print design skills are leaking into your presentation designs. Things like big headers, footers, page numbers, borders, logos, and other graphics that appear on every slide may be cramping your style and having a negative impact. When your audience has to search through extraneous visual data to get to the point you slow down their comprehension. Plus, after a while they start ignoring all of those little elements so you’re left with only 2/3 of your slide that actually matters.

It’s there. I promise. You just have to squint.

Try and eliminate anything on a slide that doesn’t have to do with what your talking about at that exact moment. If you are required to add things to your deck then consider making a set of handouts with the detailed information on it. This is also helpful with detailed charts or longer text that doesn’t work well on a slide.

2. Have TOO FEW slides (that’s right)

Slides are cheap. They’re easy to make. They don’t kill trees by wasting paper. Make more of them! As a general rule, if you’re describing a topic with subtopics it’s okay to put each subtopic on a slide, especially if you can place a graphic or some text for each subtopic to emphasis the your points. I know that Guy Kawasaki says to keep your deck to under 10 slides, but some times we need to be more visual than that.

We couldn’t afford more pixels than this. Ta-da!

Aim for flipping though a slide every 30 seconds to a minute. If you find yourself lingering on a slide for more than 3 minutes, see if you can split it up. I mean, it’s not like you’re printing your deck out, right?…. RIGHT?

3. Narrate instead of discus

Believe it or not, it’s actually okay to read from your slides… IF your slides are interesting, concise, and you’re going to talk about the content afterwards or on a previous slide. Sometimes the juxtaposition of sight and sound can aid in grabbing attention and retaining information. Just be sure to read the slide right when it comes up, so your audience isn’t reading ahead (see #6).

Take a look at this slide. It says “Take a look at this slide.”

Try and discus what you just read and give purpose to your lovely recitation. A 1:2 ration of reading to discussing is a good starting rule. For example, if it takes you 10 seconds to read a quote from your slide, then try and talk about that quote for 20 seconds or more. This helps gauge how much text you should be reading.

4. Skip the preface

This is something that gets skipped like a Netflix intro. Do you want your audience to be excited? Be excited yourself. The first words out of your mouth once the switch is flipped and the presentations officially starts should be something like “Hey we have some exciting stuff to show you”, or “I really think you’re going to like this”. I know it’s cheesy but if done sincerely it acts as a subliminal implant and starts your audience interaction on a positive tone.

Hello, aaaaand… we’re done!

After that, you should be giving a solid outline of the SECTIONS (see #5 below) you’ll be covering. Remember, tell them what they’re going to see; tell them what they’re seeing; and then tell them what they just saw.

5. Blend it all together

When we want to remember lots of data our brain has a nifty trick to help us. It breaks things up into groups. Dividing your presentation is an excellent way to keep your audience engaged and to help them follow along.

I organize my presentation into sections divided only by awkward pauses.

Nothing is worse than being 20 minutes into an hour-long presentation and not knowing how the current slide fits into the bigger picture.

6. Be overly verbose with your vast volume of verses

Yes, it may be a masterpiece of information and data. Sure, it’s the climax of your big talk. But there’s waaaaay to many words on your slide. What happens when you add a chapter from Dostoevsky to your deck? Your audience will read instead of listen.

My apparent appetite for apropos and analogous alliteration always alleviates anxious attitudes.

Our brains are hardwired to prioritize sight over sound. Even though you may be a fast talker, you’ll never outmatch your audience who have already read ahead and digested information without your shepherding them through it. Oh, and they weren’t paying attention to you at all.

This post originally appeared on Medium and was re-published with the consent and encouragement of the author.


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Matthew Stevenson

Matt is the Creative Director at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He also designs nerdy minimalist posters in his (rare) spare time and can’t wait for his two sons to pick up their first controllers and join him in a round of Smash Brothers.