Sliding Home: Presenting Slides That Work in Your Favor

Remember the last conference you attended? Which presentation was easiest to absorb? Was it the one with the slides full of small-font text? The one with the largest number of slides? Visuals that support your message instead of fighting against it take time to prepare but are worth the investment. Here are a few tips for creating slides that will work in your favor.

Start the slides only after the introduction is complete. Resist the temptation to dive right into visuals. Establish the rationale and goals of your presentation first, while the audience becomes accustomed to listening to you. Prepare them for the first slide—it will make them more attentive to your central argument.

Keep the text on your slides to a minimum. Standing in front of a slide full of words is like having someone get up on stage with a distracting sign. Don’t make your audience choose between reading and listening.

Consider your slides illustrations of your main point, not index cards to remind you what to say. The visual material you present must highlight your central idea in a powerful way. If your slides are a mere transcript of your talk, you will lose your audience’s attention. Use fewer slides, selecting only those that reinforce your main point, and make them as visually clean and compelling as possible.

Focus your viewers’ attention. On slides showing data, use visual tools to point out the essential information. Some charts, for instance, contain more data than you want to highlight. Help your audience focus by using boxes or arrows to isolate the key data.

Mark Twain famously said, “I was going to write a short letter, but I didn’t have time. So I wrote a long one.” Take the extra time to “write a short letter.” Trim your slides so they are lean and effectively communicate your research.