Whenever I speak to someone about presentations, especially those who aren’t presentation designers, their biggest pet peeve as audience members is when presenters read directly off the slide. Doing so is a pretty big insult to your audience. You’re basically telling them that you simply don’t know what you’re talking about and thus have to read. However, unless you’re a kindergarten teacher (and maybe not even then), your audience can read too. So if all you’re going to do is read your slides, why not save everyone time and email them the presentation? That way they can read it at their own convenience and spend the time saved doing something productive.
So we all know it’s bad practice to read your slides, but it still happens. Why? I believe it’s because of a lack of confidence and/or fear. Public speaking and presenting is a scary proposition, and there’s very little you can do besides practice to manage the fear of presenting. Another reason may be poor design. Many presenters pour text into their PowerPoint design, even when they know their content inside and out. It’s usually because that’s all they ever see in presentaiton design, so they figure it’s best practice and that the audience needs the text to help retain the information, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whatever the reason for reading, I wanted to offer you five tips to help avoid reading your PowerPoint slides:
- Place your laptop/monitor in between you and the audience
You won’t always have a choice, but if you do, try to make sure you have a way to see your slides without having to turn your back to the audience. Many presenters fall into the habit of reading because they turn their whole body to the screen and have a fear of turning back to the audience (leaving their slide behind). If the slides are in front of you, you can always quickly glance down at your slide should you mentally lose your place. This also allows you to keep facing the audience and keep that important connection with them.
- Break up your slide design onto multiple slides
When utilizing PowerPoint, most people utilize the templates that prompt them to put their ideas into a bullet-pointed list. This often results in the presenter simply reading the list of bullets to the audience. Not only that, creating a slide with multiple ideas/points/list items makes it harder for the audience member to remember each item because their is no visual point of reference. In other words, it muddies their memory. Spend the extra time to break your ideas onto multiple slides, each with a visual (image) to help the audience retain and recall and give you a chance to only briefly glance at each slide.
- Elicit conversations with your audience
Presentations are powerful when they’re two-way conversations. Eliciting a conversation with your audience by asking them questions or planning group activities gets the attention away from your slides and creates content through interaction. It also keeps them engaged and interested, especially when they’re contributing to the quality of the presentation.
- Use Multimedia
Adding video or other multimedia (I recently saw a presentation with a live video-chat) is a great way to engage the audience with a different content medium, but it also takes the onus of you to provide live content.
- Practice, Practice, Practice!
Of course, I left the best for last. The BEST way to avoid reading content directly off your slides is to know what you’re talking about and practice your presentation delivery! Once you know your content inside and out and practice delivering that content, there’s no need for word-for-word content on your slides – just a visual cue.
Do you still battle with reading off your slides? How have you tried to avoid reading? Let me know in the comments.