Have you ever been in a meeting where someone presents a slide deck with way too much data? It's impossible to pay attention. It's like you're going to a hoarder's house to have a cup of coffee and conversation. It would be difficult to pay attention to the conversation because you would be so overwhelmed from stimulus overload. You wouldn't be able to focus!
Unfortunately, many executives present busy slides, and the audience can become overwhelmed and zone out. In this article, we are going to discuss how to be easy to follow when presenting slides. We'll explore the problem with slides for the audience, the problem with slides for the presenter, and the solution for presenting busy slides.
Part 1: The Problem with Slides for the Audience
When a speaker presents a slide with a ton of information, the audience has three options.
1) Read the slide and don't listen
2) Listen and don't read the slide
3) Do neither and zone out because you can't focus on that much detail
Survey says 99% of people pick option three because it's impossible to pay attention when you are on information overload. Try it for yourself. Could you pay attention if someone put the slide below in front of you while they were speaking?
Part 2: The Problem with Slides for the Presenter
Due to their preparation, the presenter is mentally in a different place than their audience. The presenter has been reviewing the slides for days or weeks, and as a result, the slides are crystal clear in the presenter's mind. However, to the audience, this will be the first time seeing these slides. This situation is similar to as if the presenter is fluent in French while the audience is taking their first French class. Let's walk through an example. Imagine a speaker is presenting the slide below.
Since the speaker knows this slide, the speaker will likely jump to explaining why the data on the slide is essential. Meanwhile, the audience is still trying to figure out what is on the slide. This creates a tug of war for the audience because it is hard to both listen and decipher what is on the slides at the same time. The problem is, most audiences do not ask the speaker to go back and explain the slide because they don't want to interrupt the speaker. The audience also refrains from stopping the presenter because they do not want to come across as if they cannot follow. All too often, the speaker is mentally a few steps ahead, and the audience is a few steps behind. This creates a challenge that is easily fixed.
Part 3: The Solution
Solution #1 is to simplify your slides by creating a presentation deck rather than a leave-behind deck. A leave-behind deck has a ton of slides, while a presentation deck is made up of larger font and limited information on the slides. If you are looking for clear direction on what a presentation deck should look like, then google Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rules for presenting. Guy's rules provide a great guidelines for what a presentation deck should look like. Unfortunately, many executives' hands are tied, and they are required to use a detailed leave-behind deck instead of a presentation deck. If your hands are tied, then use solution #2 below.
Solution #2 is to be a director. Act like the director Stephen Spielberg when presenting. What do directors do? They tell actors what to do. If you are presenting, then tell your audience what to do. Here are three examples of how to be a director when presenting.
Example 1: Before you pass out slide decks, direct your audience what to do. State "Please keep the presentation deck closed until I ask you to open them." If you don't provide this direction, then everyone will start opening the deck.
Example 2: For slides with lots of data. Use the RFG framework Where / What / Why.
The order is critical.
First, tell the audience where to look.
Second, describe what they are looking at.
Third, share why they are looking at this information.
If I were presenting the slide below, here is what I would say.
Tell your audience, "(Where to look) Focus your eyes on the bottom left chart. (Describe what they are looking at) The x-axis is time, and the y-axis is yield to worst. What you are looking at is yield to worst for the last 25 years. Focus your eyes on the rate today of 7.3%. (Finish with the why) The reason why this rate is important is because we are currently at historical lows which means the fed's interventions are working."
Instead, most presenters jump to the why, leaving their audience a few steps behind. If you use the RFG where/what/why framework then you and your audience will be on the same page.
Example 3: If there is a lot of text on the slide, tell the audience what to do. If I were presenting the slide below, here is what I would say.
Tell your audience, "Don't worry about reading all the contents on this slide. Let me summarize the main takeaway for you, and you can read the rest in your free time." This statement gives your audience the ability to relax and focus on what you are saying. A concise directive statement makes a massive difference.
Remember, act like Stephen Spielberg and direct people when you are presenting slides. As a speaker, you will come across more prepared and in control. People appreciate the direction. Practice using the RFG where/what/why framework as well as the other tips provided during your next presentation. These strategies will ensure you and your audience are on the same page. Go practice!!!