This post is an update to an article originally published on October 18, 2013.
Have you ever been presenting to an audience and realized they’re getting sleepy? If you haven’t, you’re a rarity.
Presentation gurus Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte have been telling marketers and writers for years that slides chock full of information, particularly when the bulk of that information is text, don’t work. Unless, of course, your objective is a cure for insomnia.
In Slide:ology, Duarte contends that the failure of presentations is due to the inability of those who create presentations to grasp that presentations are not a verbal medium, but are in fact a visual one. “Presentation software is the first application broadly adopted by professionals that requires people to think visually,” writes Duarte. She continues, “We are all inherently visual communicators. Consider kindergarten: crayons, finger paints, and clay propelled our expression, not word processors or spreadsheets.”
This is all too true for presentation slides that are meant to:
- Help a speaker connect with an audience
- Help the audience quickly understand the basic concept that the speaker is trying to communicate
Some people have a hard time listening and reading at the same time. Most of us are better suited to performing one task or the other at a time. If a slide is copy heavy, inevitably, audience members are compelled to try to read it. Worse, the presenter might be compelled to try to read it aloud to the audience. One or both might quickly grow weary, and the audience might stop being engaged, assumed that it ever was engaged to begin with.
Granted, a large number of presentations are not presented at all; they are used instead as what Reynolds dubs “slideuments” and posted online or sent as files by email. As Reynolds explains, live presentations to an audience, “slideuments” end up being more like chasing two rabbits (presentation slides and documents) and catching neither.
Finding the right mix and depth of content and imagery for a presentation sounds simple enough, but it can be difficult to achieve.
For Presentations Intended to Be Read, Create Infodecks, Not Slideuments
Slide decks with lots of information can be effective when the intent is for the audience to read the material—those times when the presentation is being emailed or posted online and is not being used in front of an audience. This kind of deck can be called an “infodeck.”
An infodeck might be a good approach if your audience doesn’t have time to read a white paper but needs more information than it can get from a sparse presentation. These users need a “Cliffs Notes” version of white paper material.
With PowerPoint, you can do a nice job of laying out text and graphics in slides to create an infodeck. Alternatively, you can also create an infographic (in PowerPoint or another tool), or the team at Prowess Consulting can create one for you. Infographic best practices and tactics can also be incorporated into a presentation.
With an infodeck, we recommend that you include at least a few introductory slides that are light in content, visually designed, and that compel the reader to continue reading. You can reserve deeper-dive slides for later in the deck. You can also utilize the speaker-notes area for supporting information—notes are useful for both readers and presenters. This light conclusion to heavy details approach is common when creating content for the web, especially for mobile websites; it is often called the inverted pyramid. See “Inverted Pyramids in Cyberspace” for more information.
Cover All Your Bases by Creating a Presentation and an Infodeck
If you need a slide deck for a reading audience, but you also need to make a live presentation, one solution is to have two different decks—one short deck for the presentation and one longer deck for a follow-up. Another solution is the inverted-pyramid model mentioned previously, where shorter slides are followed by deeper-dive slides. The deeper-dive slides would not be used during the live presentation, but they would be in the deck to offer readers more information after the presentation.
I like to create infodecks for reading audiences, and then modify the infodecks to create separate, much shorter presentation decks. Many infodeck slides might be easily converted to presentation slides by cutting out most of the text (editing it down) to be more shorter and more effective for a live presentation. At Prowess, I have the pleasure of working with highly skilled designers who can help me communicate visually.
A variation of this concept is the 30-3-30 presentation model, where a 30-second presentation is followed by a three-minute presentation and then a 30-minute presentation all within a single deck, which allows the presenter to choose the length appropriate for the allotted time and audience and to modify as needed using added backup slides at the end of the deck. Even in this case, however, the 30-minute portion is best done with short, visual content if it is intended to be presented to an audience.
Depending on the material you’re covering, and how you want to cover it in the oral presentation, you might need to create completely new slides to make a good presentation. Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen and Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology can help you create outstanding presentations with simple slides that help make the presentations successful. As mentioned previously, you can also rely on the team at Prowess to create presentations for you.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, Especially on a Slide
Nowhere is the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” more true than in a slide deck, especially if the deck is intended as a backdrop to a live presentation. Consider the following two slides. While the first slide might be preferable if intended for a reading audience, if presented live, the second slide provides a simpler visual that would better support the information shared verbally.[i] Using slide two with the information in speaker notes is another option that might cover both needs.
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[i] Slides are modified from an existing deck. Source: Andreessen Horowitz. “Network Effects.” March 2016. http://www.slideshare.net/a16z/network-effects-59206938/11-3_connections_unidirectional_or_bidirectionalfriendsfacebook.