When Giving Presentations, Weed Out the Wordiness

Person giving a presentation

Sitting through a presentation that features text-filled slide after boring slide can be an eye-straining, headache-inducing experience. That’s important to keep in mind when designing the slides for your own presentations. A general rule is to use images instead of text whenever possible, such as drawings, cartoons, illustrations, graphs, charts, or photos—including those you’ve taken yourself.

Some people advocate avoiding text altogether and limiting slides to images. That’s fine for a presentation on your trip to Iceland, but for most professional presentations, a little text can go a long way in helping listeners absorb and retain the presented information.

That text can take the form of individual words or short phrases that serve as prompts for the points you’re making. Using this approach means more work for you, because you have to know your material well enough to present it with only these keywords as a guide. The upside is that you have flexibility in what you say and you can adjust your patter in the moment, without being constrained by a slide-filled narrative.

Slides filled with bullet points are among the most snooze-inducing parts of many presentations. But if you’re inclined to use bullet points anyway, try to avoid the mistake many presenters make of projecting a slide crammed with bullet points and immediately starting to talk. As cognitive load theory explains, people have difficulty processing written and spoken information at the same time, especially when the two don’t match. Therefore, when they’re reading the text, they miss some of what you’re saying, and if they’re listening, they can’t absorb the text. If circumstances require you to present a slide packed with bullet points, pause and let the audience read it before continuing.

One of the many alternatives to projecting slides full of bullet points is using animation to reveal each bullet item only when you’re ready to speak to it. That way, people won’t be able to read ahead, and they’ll know at any point which bullet item you’re talking about. Another option is to spread the bullet items out over several slides. For example, consider spreading eight bullet items across four slides, with visuals on each slide that support the messages.

As you prepare your next presentation, keep in mind that your slides should support your presentation, not be your presentation. Your audience will appreciate you for remembering that.

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