Let The Slides Do The Talking

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Russel Davies wrote a bit about designing a good slide deck called “Doing the hard work to make it clear”, which is worth reading. Toward the end, he talks about how his technique “works on social media.”

Increasingly, when doing a public presentation, the most interesting and coherent slides end up on Instagram or Twitter. If nothing else it’s a good discipline to think of your slides in these terms. Do they communicate on Instagram, without you droning on in front of them?

For my latest few talks, the answer is a clear and resounding “no”. In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to tell what these talks were about from any of the slides. From my experience, too often presentations fall too far in the opposite direction: the droning speaker merely recites what’s already written on the slide. Listening to the speaker is just as good as reading what’s already written on the slide, but it takes ten times as long to get it out.

Therefore, I’ve made it a point not to use slides as a way to throw up bullet points of information to be regurgitated in front of a live audience. Instead, I want my slides to reinforce what I’m saying. My presenting style is fast-paced and filled with visual gags. (I put on the first four years of Ignite Lincoln, whose format had slides rotating every fifteen seconds; my own talks change faster than that.) Slides are heavy on imagery that illustrates my point and thin on cognitively distracting text. My hope is that the audience isn’t trying to read what my slides say, but are instead listening to what I am saying. Because, as I tweeted out:

Part of me wants my talk to only work with me in the room. Do I need to be there if my slides do all the talking?

But the other part of me doesn’t disagree with Davies. I do think that there’s room for leeway. A bit of well-placed text can also reinforce a point specifically because it’s rare. And, I have to admit, the shareable, promotional aspect of it is promising. As a new speaker trying to crack into a very full scene, any way I can help people push my own ideas out into the world is a good thing. If they want to share the important nuggets, then I have an opportunity to make it super-easy for them to do that.

For my next talk, whatever that may be on, I’m going to try this. It will still be mostly pictures, examples, and jokes, but I’ll try to summarize just a few of the main points in shareable little morsels and see if that helps attendees grasp the ideas better and maybe even spread them out through their networks.

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