More powerful slide presentations

ExecuTips - By Robert Labayen

Posted at Aug 27 2015 08:49 PM | Updated as of Aug 28 2015 04:49 AM

Photo by Johnny Delos Santos

I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of slide presentations. Most of the time, I was confused. Where should I look, at the presenter’s face or the cluttered slide on the screen? It is almost like following the ball in a tennis match.

The PowerPoint and the Keynote are great inventions. But the wrong use and the abuse of these tools are actually blocks to communication. I notice that many young presenters today are mastering the art of decorating the slide and pressing the button at the right time instead of making a connection with the audience.

The presenter has become invisible!

I know that these young people are brilliant and confident. Their talent can shine more if they would stop hiding in the dark areas outside the projection screen.

I told my staff before (maybe I should tell them again) that there are two general kinds of slide presentations:

The first one is the kind that we send by email. The receiver will view it on their own time at their own pace. Therefore, the slides should be self-explanatory. All the details and the things that need to be said are contained in the slides.

The second one is the kind that a live presenter presents to a live audience. These are my suggestions on how to make this kind of presentation:

We are the main visual. Humans connect more when they look eye to eye. It is not possible if we’re all looking at the screen most of the time. So, make our audience look at us. Show them our warmth, sincerity and good storytelling.

Less is more. Many presenters think that more slides equals more credibility. The truth is, more slides means more confusion. Some presenters would have one slide for every sentence that they wish to emphasize. I think it is so much better to emphasize a point if we just say it well, looking at our audience’s eyes. Let us use a slide only when we cannot use our voice.

Show it if you cannot say it. The most appropriate times to use a slide are when our spoken words cannot describe what we can show. For example, a map, a picture of something or somebody, a cartoon, a video clip, a financial statement, etc.

Short is sweet. The audience will not have patience to read small text in long paragraphs. Key phrases or key words will stay so much longer in their memory. They also prevent them from staring at the screen for too long.

If you show it, linger on it. Some slides have too many words or too many numbers and yet, the presenter will flash these slides for only a few seconds. If we don’t intend to make the audience go through all the lines and all the numbers, let’s just put the info on a leave-behind hard copy so they can read on their own time and pace.

If we show important words on a slide (for example, mission statement or song lyrics), let’s give our audience enough time to read and feel the words. We should do the same with charts with too many numbers.

Walk them through it. If we show a chart with boxes, circles and arrows, let’s walk our audience through it. We can’t just let them navigate by themselves because they wouldn’t even know where to start.

Clean background. Many presenters like to use watermark pictures as background. They are actually distracting. It is always better to use a plain background. For me, white is best.

Bigger is better. Small and thin letters look good on fashion labels but they are invisible on a projection screen. Bigger letters are more visible. The bigger the hall (sometimes you present in a ballroom), the bigger the letters.

One art direction only. When I was younger, I used a different art style for every slide. I thought I was being cool. Now I realize I was being confusing. I suggest we use only one art direction through all the pages so that the audience will know which are chapter headings, headlines, body text , etc. The audience should get the pattern for easier understanding.

Think of your slide presentation as a book. It has only one art direction from cover to cover.

When I was younger, our presentations were written on Manila paper. Later on, we also used slides which will now be considered primitive. We used stick-on letters that we pressed on paper one by one. We would take a picture of them, mount each film positive on a cardboard frame and manually arrange these slides on a carousel.

I am not saying that our old methods were better. I am saying that they were laborious so we learned to choose “slideable” info well.

I think that PowerPoint presentations will be more powerful if we just choose the slides well and make the presenter become a living thing again.


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About the Author:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.