Presenting with Slides: What NOT to Do!

I’m sure I’m not alone in having attended meetings where the speaker literally reads every point when presenting with slides. There’s nothing more exhausting than sitting through a presentation where you struggle to follow hundreds of words crammed onto a page. When a slide deck is jam-packed, where does that leave room for the speaker to add value?

Here we’re going to look at how to use slides with care, based on a simple rule when presenting with slides: don’t read! I’m going to share three easy ways to start moving away from this habit, if you happen to be one of those slide readers.

Tip #1: Know Your Content

One of the best tricks to get around the temptation to read when presenting with slides is to know your content. A slide deck is not a literal transcription of your presentation. Otherwise, there’s no purpose to having a speaker.

Many people use slides as a crutch, instead of an enhancement, to their presentation.

You don’t have to learn your presentation word-for-word. However, you should be familiar with the main point for each slide, as well as transitions from one point to the next. Knowing your content will boost your confidence when delivering a presentation, so that you focus the audience’s attention on what you have to say, not what’s written behind you.

Many people use slides as a crutch, instead of an enhancement, to their presentation. When you’re presenting with slides the focus should be on you, not on your slides. If anything, a slide deck is there to help emphasize the main point you want to make. It helps your audience remember this point through supporting visuals, charts, or simple phrases. This leads nicely into the second tip.

Tip #2: Use Compelling Visuals

Presenting is a visual medium. Whether or not you use slides to accompany your presentation, the goal is to convey information to your audience, both verbally and using visual cues.

We’ve all heard how a picture is worth a thousand words. When presenting with slides, this is definitely the case. You want to avoid writing a thousand words on the page. This will force your audience to choose between reading or listening to you.

When you use compelling visuals, you direct the audience’s focus onto you, and not the words written behind you.

A compelling image creates an emotional backdrop for your story. This can draw in your audience so that, as the presenter, they are more attentive to what you have to say. Your visuals needn’t be an exact replica of your story, so much as an enhancement, or a means of featuring the most important information for them to remember.

When you use compelling visuals, you direct the audience’s focus onto you, and not the words written behind you.

Tip #3: Avoid Bullet Points

This last tip may be somewhat controversial, especially for you bullet point lovers! The truth is, there’s no such thing as the perfect presentation format. Styles change over time. And in today’s busy work environment, we don’t have time to fret about making pretty slides.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you magically transform your slide deck into a hyper-designed creation. Having said that, there’s a huge difference in the impact of a slide deck stuffed with long sentences versus compelling visuals coupled with a short phrase.

Bullet points are indeed a quick way to get your key messages down. The thing is, they make it all too easy to fall into the trap of putting too many words on the page and then reading, instead of presenting.

For the doubters among you, I’m a bullet point convert myself. When I first built presentations in the early years of my career, bullet points were fashionable. One of the tricks I have since developed is to write the full narrative of my presentation onto a single page. Then I go through and arrange this text into the notes section of my slide deck, dividing it into digestible pieces. The goal is to present no more than one main concept, along with a supporting visual for each page.

If nothing else, remember not to read when presenting. If you know your content, use compelling visuals, and avoid bullet points, you’ll be well on your way to delivering a presentation with confidence.

Check out this Simply Comms video with communications leader, Aimée DuBrule, to learn more.

Are you a bullet point convert or slide reader? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know your thoughts on this technique and be sure to send in other communication questions to address in future posts.

Published by Aimée DuBrule

Corporate communications expert, host of Wake Up Shake Up podcast and founder of CultureRISE. During my 20-year career, I've worked across three continents with multi-national corporations, NGOs and agencies, leading communications programmes in the consumer goods, health, technology and travel sectors. My specialties are executive communication coaching, corporate branding, reputation management and crisis management.

Leave a Reply