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Fading into Sameness: How Too Many Slides Can Ruin Your Presentation

"I have a love/hate relationship with PowerPoint. In the right hands, it's a great presentation tool. In the wrong hands (and unfortunately, most usage falls into this category) we are cloning generations of boring slide shows narrated by speakers we barely notice." - Debbie Bailey

Ah, the good old days. For me, those were the days beforePowerPoint slide shows became the norm for virtually everybusiness presentation given in corporate America. I fondlyremember the days when presenters spoke passionately abouta subject near and dear to their heart without having todisplay every single thought on a slide. I often reminisce back to the time when 80 slides for a 20 minutepresentation was NOT the standard, when presenters weren't just slide narrators, when preparing for a presentation meant more than putting together your slide show.

Now don't get me wrong, I know the advantages of usinga few good slides, however, I also know that too much of a good thing is, well, BAD. I subscribe to Bill Wheless' philosophy about PowerPoint "It's like alcohol in the hands of a drunk. What we need is moderation." Somehow, we must learn to use, but not abuse, slides. If we don't, we risk looking and sounding like every other boring business presenter. Worst of all, we become forgettable.

Think about the last presenter who strongly affected you. More than likely that presenter used very few, if any,slides. The most memorable presenters rely on theirdelivery style to make their point, rather than a welldesigned slide deck.

When I first began teaching presentation skills more than20 years ago, I struggled to convince presenters toincorporate the use of visual aids. My how the world has changed.

Today, convincing presenters to rely less on their slides and more on their dynamic communication skills is even harder. It's almost as if presenters believe that all it takes to deliver a successful presentation is a good slide deck. Unfortunately, when asked to prepare a presentation, presenters spend the vast majority of their time working on their slides, rather than on perfecting their delivery style.

Consider for a moment why political candidates andpresidents DON'T use slides. My guess is, they don't wantto divert any attention away from themselves. They understand what Roger Ailes, author of the famous book "You Are the Message" has known for quite some time. "For those who want to succeed, there is only one secret. YOU ARE THE MESSAGE."

Generally, here's what happens when you overuse slides:

1. Your slides lose their ability to make an impact-Essentially, slides become the white noise in thepresentation, so constant that they are no longernoticeable.

2. The audience focuses on your slides, rather than onyou. If 55% of your communication power comes from yourbody and face (based on the universally accepted researchby Albert Mehrabian), than NOT having the audience focusedon you diminishes about half of your POWER as a presenter. Can you really afford to cut your personal power in half?

3. You are demoted to the position of slide narrator. Theslides take center stage and like the narrator of a play,you are the anonymous voice coming from somewhere in the background.

Just as too many slides can detract from your success asa presenter, having a few well designed slides canstrengthen your impact. Consider these quick tips designedto help improve your use of slides:

1. Develop your presentation first, then determine where avisual might help the audience better understand yourmessage. This is a much safer approach than developingyour slides first.

2. Try to boil your presentation down to six or fewer important slides that speak to the heart of your message. Make sure that each slide you chose complies with the 6 x 6 rule-no more than six lines of text with six words on each line.

3. Better yet, make the impact of your slides visual,rather than verbal (words written on slides). The bestslides arouse the audience visually so take a creativeapproach to translating words into meaningful pictures.

Rest assured that it's not that I am anti slides-I ampro YOU! While slides do serve an important function, eventhe best designed slide can't compete with the power ofYOU. YOU are the greatest visual aid of all! Take thefocus OFF the slides and put it back where it belongs-squarely on YOU! Invest the time you might have spent on your slides on your delivery practice and rather than fadinginto sameness, you will STAND APART from the rest!

(c) Debbie Bailey, 2004

Debbie Bailey is a well-regarded Presentation Skills Training Consultant and founder of Trainer2go Inc. For more information about Debbie go to

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