How many words do you have on your slides？
One simple rule to check if your slide is effective is to count how many texts it has and what text size is used.
The presentation’s main focus should be on the presenter, not the slides. The slides serve as visual support to deliver the message. When you show a lot of texts, your audience starts to read. People simply can’t read and listen at the same time.
In this post, I will summarize key learnings from the book “Slide:ology” written by Nancy Duarte.
The trap of “Slideument”
The book “Slide:ology” coined the word “Slideument”, which means using slides as a document.
Such a common mistake in big corporations.
Do the following slides look familiar to you in your companies? People tend to have the presentation and the report mixed in one file. The slides look overwhelmed. The audience simply doesn’t know where to look. If they choose to listen to you, those slides can only cause confusion and lead to distraction.
In the book, Nancy distinguishes three concepts:
- Document: if a slide contains over 75 words, you should simply admit this is a document, not a presentation. You might circulate the slideument ahead of time or allow the audience to read it at the start.
- Teleprompter: around 50 words per slide. Many professionals use this teleprompter approach as default. The slides are more for themselves since they don’t have time to rehearse the content.
- Presentation: True presentation focus on the presenter and the big ideas. The slides are visual aids to reinforce the message, not create distraction.
“The audience will either read your slides or listen to you. They will not do both. So, ask yourself this: is it more important that they listen, or more effectively if they read?” — Nancy Duarte
It is okay not to rely on presentations to deliver the message. But if you do want to stand in front of your audience and be supported by the slides behind you, you need to avoid the “slideument” trap.
Simple and clear
How to get out of the trap and have truly effective slides? Simple cure: Increase font size, and constraint the text length.
As a venture capitalist, Guy Kawasaki suggested the pitch teams apply the “10/20/30 rule” for their PowerPoint presentation.
This rule means:
- 10 slides,
- less than 20 minutes,
- and no font smaller than 30 points.
“10 slides is the optimal number of slides because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than 10 concepts in a meeting.” — Nancy Duarte
But too many texts are usually only symptoms. The root question is if you have a clear big idea and if you can tell it in a simple way.
As a Presenter, the top concern should be how well you communicate. This means “getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you are excited (or sad, or whatever else you are). ”
A presentation facing hundreds or thousands of audiences can still feel like having an individual conversation if you know well what’s your point, and why it matters to your audience.
In order to connect with your audience, you must have a clear understanding of them. Here are some questions to reflect on:
- Who are they? Age, language/region, profession, etc.
- Why are they here to listen to you? What do they think they’re going to get out of your presentation?
- What keeps them up at night? And how can you solve their problem, make their lives better? What do you want them to do? After hearing the presentation, “so what”? What is the call to action?
- How might they resist? What will keep them from adopting your message?
“Don’t you hate it when presenter has crammed so much information into a presentation that there’s no possible way they can get through it All without talking like an auctioneer? They avoid questions and discussion because ‘we’ve got a lot to get through’. — Tom Johnson (Author, www.idratherbewriting.com)
This quote is striking to me. Same as the image below: When the audience only had time for “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” please don’t try to cover War and Peace, and Les Miserables.
Don’t focus on your own agenda, feeling like you have a lot to share. Think about why your audience needs to care.
In the end, you should keep in mind: presentation is not the only way to communicate. In the business context, effective communication means the audience can properly react and give constructive feedback to move projects forward.
Be smart to choose the right communication approach in your unique context. It can be 20 minutes’ presentation and 40 minutes of Q&A. You can have slides as well as distribute handouts so your audience can dive into the details before or after. OR you may send reports with all facts and figures and action plans beforehand, then have a meeting to discuss and decide, or even ask for feedback in a written format by a deadline.
Good luck for your next presentation, and for your next group communication.