October 15, 2010

Five ways to avoid reading from your slides

Let's say you're stuck with a canned slide show.

Let's say you have no control over your slides. They're sent to you by the marketing department, they're riddled with bullets, and that's what you have to work with. It's an unfortunate situation, but not impossible to improve.

How can you keep the audience's attention, not get sucked into reading from the slides, and make this presentation your own?

1. Write your own notes.

You don't have to use the slides as your notes. In fact, it's preferable that your notes are not tied to the computer or slides, but on a separate piece of paper or cards, so that you can move freely and interact with the audience.

Most important, your notes guarantee that you will be able to discuss the slides in your own words, and not be tempted to use the words that are already visible on the slide.

2. Black out the screen before the next slide.

Ideally, you could place a black slide anywhere in the deck that you want to pause and have a discussion. But then, if you could do that, you probably wouldn't be stuck with a deck full of bullet points!

So instead, let's use the B key on the keyboard (or better yet, the blackout function on your remote) to turn the screen black before you get to the slide with a lot of bullets.

Now you can have a conversation, ask questions or tell stories to prepare the audience for the concepts that will be covered, without giving them the opportunity to read ahead and lose focus. Use your own notes and your flip chart to write down any audience contributions.

3. Ask, don't tell.

Let's use an example from a client of mine, who facilitates a review class for nurses on moderate sedation, a technique where medication is administered to a semi-conscious patient though an IV to provide relaxation and minimize discomfort during a medical procedure.

Most of her slides are bulleted lists for concepts like "Goals of moderate sedation," and "Who is a candidate for moderate sedation?" This slide show is a typical one-way lecture-style presentation where the audience could very easily sit, eyes glazed over and drooling, for an hour without a single interaction with the instructor.

Using the previous black screen trick, she can stop showing the slides right before "Goals of moderate sedation." Then she can engage her audience, asking, "What are some of the goals of moderate sedation?" or "Why do we use moderate sedation?"

She takes answers from the audience, writing them down on a flip chart so she can remember which ones they've mentioned and come back to them later if necessary. When she feels she has sufficiently covered the goals of moderate sedation, then she can pull up the slide with the list of bullets. Now, instead of the bullets revealing the concepts for the first time, they are instead reinforcing a conversation that has already happened.

The instructor might find that one or two of the bullets were not covered (we hoped the students would forget "temporary amnesia" so she could make a joke...) and she can take this time to discuss them, or to flesh out any material that was left out of the discussion on the other bullets.

But what she doesn't have to do is read from the slide. Because everything on the slide has already been discussed. And there is no mystery to the audience, so they don't have to read ahead or wonder about bullet point #6. She has turned a lecture into a two-way conversation.

4. Choose the most critical or interesting points.

I have another client who doesn't have the luxury of creating or revising her own slides, and because she's not in front of a live audience, has gotten into the habit of reading directly from the bullets during her sales webinars.

In reviewing one of the slides outlining the benefits her customers receive from her product, it was clear that one benefit stood out among the others in its uniqueness and wow factor -- and it also triggered my client's own excitement about the product.

Now, when she gets to that slide, she only briefly summarizes the overall benefits in her own words (because the audience can read each one for themselves), but spends the most time talking about the one particular benefit that will really intrigue and impress her prospects.

5. Tell your own stories.

Dig up stories, case studies, examples and analogies that make the content more exciting, relevant and powerful to your audience. Use the black screen technique to take a moment to insert your story or example and then move on to the slide the story illustrates. This gives a personalized feel to the presentation, even if the slides are canned.

I know that it's frustrating to be handed a slide show and be asked to deliver it when you've had no input into the design or development of the presentation. But you do have options!

Consider it your raw material, the skeleton that you will flesh out with your own words, your own stories, audience interaction and authentic excitement about your topic. You can make even a traditional dreary slide show shine!

Share your examples of personalizing someone else's slide show in the comments!

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

Ravi Moosad said...


Thanks for the article. For me the best way to avoid reading from the slides is to avoid writing on it( which is not always practical). Your tips rock. I have subscribed to the feed..

Jef Menguin said...

Thank you for sharing your tips. You are correct, we really need to have more conversation with our audience.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comments, Ravi and Jef. Sometimes we are not entirely in control of our materials, but we are always in control of the conversation!

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