• Akos Gerold

3 key things most presenters are unaware of when using slides

Pictures aid the retention of the content because most of our memory is visual.

How do most presenters start preparing a presentation?

They flip out PowerPoint, or whichever presentation software they use, and start creating slides.

What often happens is that the slides become a list of bullet points of what they wish to say. This approach, however, often hurts their storytelling.


Because a well constructed story is typically back engineered.

In other words, planning a story that will spur the audience to action starts from defining what the speaker wants the audience to do as a result of the presentation. Then the presenter needs to figure out what insights will move their audience to take that action and what illustrations and details will support those insights. Finally, the insights, and supporting details and illustrations need to be chained into a story because lists of mental bullet points never motivate people to action nearly as much as stories do.

Mind you, when I mention the audience talking action, I don’t necessarily mean a physical action such as reaching for their wallets. Action can also be mental, like maintaining support for a project or understanding a certain concept.

So the first key thing that most presenters are not aware of is that

slides should be created after the storyline has been finalised.

This allows the speaker to come up with slides that will support exactly what they say and how they say it. Which is what slides are meant to do.

The second frequent mistake is

too much text in slides.

And from having worked with many presenters and having attended even more presentations, I would say that what most people consider sufficiently little text is often four to ten times more than what does not distract from the verbal message.

Why would too much text distract from what the speaker says?

Because we are not able to mentally process verbal and visual information when it comes at us at the same time unless the amount of visual information is very limited.

I actually measure this every time I give presentation skills training. And when the amount of text is above a very low threshold, the audience misses significant bits of what the presenter says.

So what is the threshold?

Nancy Duarte defines it with the Glance Test. She says that if the speaker talks while showing a slide, there should be no more text in the slide than what can be absorbed with a glance. She puts the threshold at three words. Yes. Only 3.

I am sure you wonder how can slides with bullet points survive the Glance Test. They can’t. But it’s much better for your bullet points to die a painful death than for your audience to miss your message and insights that will push them towards taking the action you want.

So what is the solution? Make a new slide for every bullet point and reduce the amount of text in each to up to three words. Only keep the key words. The rest you can always say.

The task is a bit more complicated when it comes to even more detail heavy slides, such as ones containing tables and graphs. The solution for those, however, will be the subject of another post.

The third thing presenters are often unaware of is the importance of pictures. According to David JP Philips,

using colour pictures with up to three words increases retention to up to 68%,

tested 72 hours after exposure. In the case of text-only slides, this number is only 10%.

This makes sense. A lot larger part of our brains is responsible for storing visual information than language. Even when we read a book, we visualise what we read. So speakers should intend to create in their audience’s minds what is in German called “Kopfkino", which can be translated and "mental cinema".

The choice of the pictures in the slides is of course crucial. The visual needs to very clearly support the written word in the slide and the spoken word coming from the presenter.

So what three typical pitfalls can you easily avoid when using slides in face-to-face presentations?

Leave creating the slides to after the storyline has been finalised to make sure it supports your storytelling.Use up to three words in each slide, except the title one and the one with your contact details towards the end, to avoid distracting from your verbal storytelling, andUse a matching colour picture in each slide to increase retention.

I am looking forward to exploring these topics and many others in greater detail in my Brain-Friendly Slides workshop on the opening day (9th March) of the 2019 Munich Creative Business Week.

Happy presenting!

#mcbw #cokreamcbw19 #brainfriendlyslides #munich #presentation #slides #publicspeaking #visualstorytelling #presenting #presentationslides #munichcreativebusinessweek

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Akos Gerold

Brasília, Brazil


Tel: +55 61 99880-9919

WhatsApp: +55 61 99880-9919



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