One benefit of writing a monthly column for California Broker magazine is that I get to address pet peeves. In the February issue, my column, offered advice on how to create better PowerPoint slides. Clearly, I’ve attended — and given — way too many speeches. Part 2 will be published in March . This version is slightly altered from the magazine version.
Powerful Presentations for Your Audience’s Sake. Part I
Do you give speeches? Maybe at carrier or GA product seminar? Or at association events? Do you use seminar marketing? If so, you probably use PowerPoint (or its Mac cousin, Keynote) and this article is addressed to you.
It’s written for your audience, however. Because sitting through presentations with lousy slides can be painful.
PowerPoint can turn an interesting speech into nap time. This isn’t the software’s fault. Like splitting the atom, presentation software can be used for good or evil. Slides can generate tremendous energy or radioactive tedium. If you use slides, for your audience’s sake, please use them wisely.
It’s About You
I’ve sat through hundreds of presentations. And I’ve given hundreds, too. This doesn’t make me an expert on public speaking, but it does make me experienced. Plus, I’ve spent time researching what makes good slides. In this article (about content) and next month’s (on design), I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. Full disclosure: I may not always follow these rules myself, but I know I should.
In reading this advice, please remember that you are the presentation. The audience wants to hear you talk about your products and services. Otherwise they could stay home and read brochures.
Slides can help you deliver your message, but they are not the focus of your presentation. They can provide context and underscore key points. They should never distract. Slides should be something your audience glances at, quickly comprehends, and then returns their rapt attention to you.
Don’t Read Them. Your slides are not a script. That’s what notes are for. Reading your slides is a crime against humanity, at least the slice of humanity sitting in front of you. There’s a place in hell reserved for slide readers, right next to those who talk during movies and recline their seats on airplanes.
Your audience can read silently faster than you can read out loud. Once an audience sees you reading slides, you’ve lost them. They’ll read the slides for themselves. And then they’ll check their email.
There is an exception to this “no reading” rule. If you’re not reading every slide, when you do read one it can capture the audience’s attention in a very powerful way. I make use of this exception during talks based on my book, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success. During that presentation I define sales professionalism. An agent surveyed for the book did a great job of describing the term. My slide shows his entire quote and I read it. As a result, the definition stands out. Because it stands out, the definition is more memorable. Use restraint when applying this exception, however. Read more than a few slides, and it’s back to the emails.
Slides Aren’t Handouts. As noted, slides can provide context and emphasis. However, what if you want to use the slides as something your audience can take with them to keep your message fresh?
Don’t. That’s not what slides are for. Flyers and brochures are for handing out. Links to articles and blog posts are for sharing. Slides are for supporting your presentation. Use the right tool for the right job. This requires a bit more effort on your part, but you’ll be much more effective as a result.
Sentences Are Unnecessary. You should talk in complete sentences. Your slides don’t have to. The audience should be able to glance at the slide, glean its meaning and return their attention to you (the star of the show).
This makes complete sentences counterproductive, with a few exceptions. For example, if you’re quoting someone, you want may need to provide the entire quote. Although there’s a reason they invented ellipses.
At first you may find it uncomfortable to not use complete sentences on your slides. Sentences can be reassuring. They tell you what to say. But you’ll also be tempted to read them. And that, as we’ve discussed, is unacceptable.
Phrases are friend. They too can remind you what to say. And they’re easier for your audience to read. Sometimes just a word or two can be powerful. In my health care reform presentation, I explain why brokers should not worry too much about proposals like Medicare for All. I could write out the reasons in cogent sentences. But that would transfer attention from me to the slides.
Instead, I explain the reasons and borrow a couple of reassuring words from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Don’t Panic”. That’s all the slide contains, two words: “Don’t Panic.” This not only underscores my message, it’s somewhat comforting.
Watch Your Words
Words Can Be Unnecessary. Sometimes you don’t need any words. Instead of telling your audience something, you can show them. Discussing what’s happening in Washington, D.C.? A picture of the Capitol or the White House provides context. Talking about impending danger from bad policy making? Use a picture of a tidal wave or an avalanche to underscore your message.
Pictures can also add a bit of humor to your message without distracting from what you’re saying. For example, when talking about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., use the avalanche picture. Your audience will get the point. They may even chuckle.
Finding the right picture is easy. Free images can be found on the web and stock photos are available for very little cost. It’s worth taking some time to search for the right “thousand words” picture.
Graphs can be effective, too. Just make sure you attribute them and that they can be read in the back of the room. If you have to apologize for how small the graph is, don’t use it.
Title and Closing Slides. You’re most likely being introduced before you approach the podium. A title slide with your topic and your name is good to have on the screen during this time. If it also includes your company’s name and logo, even better (more on logos next month).
And there’s no need for a slide at the end that reads “Questions?” You’ll tell your audience when it’s time for questions. Instead, your last slide should be a near duplicate of the title slide. This end slide, however, should include your contact information. After all, they came to hear you. Use this slide to help them follow-up with you.
Your slides need to have the right context. They also need to be legible. That’s where good design can help. And that’s next month’s topic.
Alan Katz is one of Cal Broker’s 2020 editorial advisors. He’ll be writing monthly about marketing and sales growth as well as health care reform. Katz is a co-founder of Take 44, Inc., the company behind NextAgency, an agency management system for life and health agencies. He is a past president of NAHU, was a senior vice president at WellPoint and general manager of the general agency Centerstone. Katz also served as chief of staff to California’s Lieutenant Governor and on the Santa Monica City Council. You can follow him on Twitter (@AlanSKatz) and contact him at Alan@Take44.com.