The other day, I was having a spirited discussion — is there any other kind? — with George Hendley of The Speakers’ Academy about the role slideshows can have in a presentation. The conversation went something like this:
Jonathan: Do you want me to help design a slideshow to go along with your speech?
Jonathan: But wouldn’t it help emphasize your points and support your ideas?
George: Nope, it’ll be a distraction.
I admit, my feelings were hurt for something between a picosecond and a nanosecond. But I quickly accepted that George was right (and yeah, George, if you’re reading this, it’s in writing for all eternity). Slideshows can be extremely distracting.
This is most certainly the case when any one of my Principal Pet Peeves occur during a presentation. They are:
- Slides that are filled with text from top to bottom and which look like a Word Search.
- Visual content that tells all about a topic before the speaker has a chance to introduce it.
- Infographics so detailed that viewers require the Hubble Space Telescope to read them.
- Obnoxious special effects that add nothing of value except “pop” or “pizzaz”.
- Slideshow printouts that sit in front of audiences to look at during a presentation.
The most egregious of all slideshow sins is to use it as a teleprompter.
Nothing is more distracting than a presentation that is constantly interrupted by a speaker who isn’t in full command of his or her material.
And seen from the perspective of somebody like George — who saves people every day from using slideshows as presentational crutches — I can understand why any sort of visual aid would be a kind of anathema.
But I would also say, the spoken word is not the be-all and end-all of communication.
When used properly, slideshows can reinforce and amplify the things a speaker is trying to say. To help guide your way forward in designing slideshows, I leave you with the following observations and advice from David JP Phillips, a world-renowned public speaker, trainer, and communications expert: