This week I have had the pleasure of doing a number of speaking gigs. Presenting to both students and adults I have tried my best to demonstrate why I am so passionate about presentation. No point talking about it if I cannot lead by example. Yet one event really got under my skin this week! It was something really simple too.

Slide composition.
So what was this simple thing?

A presenter before me had a set of slides and proceeded to read every last, single, damn bullet point on the slide to the audience!

My lizard brain wanted to jump out of the seat and do a presentation makeover right there and then. Now don’t get me wrong I am not one of those ones that jump all over people using bullet points. I actually think that if used wisely and creatively they have a place in putting forward a point. Some people like lists. Yet why was the presenter reading and consequently boring the audience to tears? Why were there so many bullets??

I despair when I have to sit through any presentation with gaudy fonts, life draining templates, clip art and don’t even get me started on the animation that looks like the person who designed it was consuming Class A narcotics. Yet at the same time whilst such presentations do get under my skin, it provides opportunities to talk about what a good slide deck or presentation should be like.

Slides help tell your story
As a presenter it is easy to jump on PowerPoint, Keynote or any slide deck software and say you are putting together a presentation. Some will even take it further and go for the more interactive Prezi, but before you do pause for a moment. Pull up a chair.

When I first got introduced to slides it was through the medium of a carousel slide projector.

When we went away on family trips or school trips this was how the pictures taken from these events would be relayed back to the audience. The pictures would speak for themselves. It was even better still if the person operating the slides narrated the adventure,  especially if you had not attended the trip, or through their narration allowed you to relive the special moments if you had.

On the flip side for business or educational presentations it was all about the overhead projector or OHP as we called it.

The presenter would either have predesigned acetates or they would draw on the fly. You as an audience member would be taken into this presentation as it happened. There was an effort to get you engaged, without any bullet points.

Please don’t get it twisted though people still ended up putting too much information on those acetates. I remember many a physics lesson wondering why my tutor would put so much information up when he could have simply just pointed to the notes that already existed in our notebooks.

Those early examples of presentations are a healthy reminder though why we need to rethink how we start putting slides together.

What’s your story?
I think those who are new at the art of giving effective presentations should learn some simple rules from the world of OHPs and carousel slide projectors. In many respects those media forced you to think of the story or key points that you wanted to make with visuals as your backdrop. So before you even fire up slide deck software think of the following.

What do you want your audience to learn from your presentation?
What purpose does the slide serve?
If you put loads of content on a slide why should the audience even listen to you?
Would you seriously want to sit through a presentation like the one you are giving?

Think about it. You want people to take action on your presentation. Whether that is being impressed by your achievements, embracing change, running with a vision. That is it. Simply. Of course it takes time to step up and deliver a presentation of the quality as we see on RSA or TED videos and most of us don’t have the luxury of working with geniuses such as Nancy Duarte or Garr Reynolds but we could do well to learn from them. In my next few presentation blog posts on this I will give some tips as to how one can construct a better slide deck and some great books and online resources too.

In the meantime before you even think of presenting just remember, do you want your audience to be enlightened, empowered or impressed or do you want them to slip into the presentation equivalent of a general anaesthetic? The choice is yours.