Think back… far back… ten, twenty, thirty years back… to when you were just a wee child sitting in the back of a classroom listening arduously to your history teacher’s lesson on some dubious battle of WWII. She is speaking quickly (a tad bit hastily, you think) and you’re trying desperately to pay attention, but there’s a glaring distraction in front of you: a slide full from edge to edge with text. You can’t decide who or what you should be paying attention to– the slide or the teacher– and you’re too nervous to ask, so opt to stare confusedly out the window instead of choosing either…

Such is a common tale for the average student and likewise, for the modern businessperson. However, death by PowerPoint presentations– ones riddled with bullet points and an onslaught of text– are becoming less and less acceptable in our simplicity-loving, design-driven modern world. Which is precisely why we must embrace using simplistic, minimalist slides and rely on ourselves as presenters to speak to their meaning.

Trim the Text

The easiest way to cut distraction out of the presentation equation is to minimize the amount of text on each slide. As the amount of words on a slide goes down, the potential for distraction also goes down. If there’s only one word on the slide accompanied by an image, then the audience unconsciously knows to listen to you for the meaning. There isn’t a choice between you and the text on the slide because you’ve eliminated it.

Which sections of text on a slide can you visualize with an image of some kind? Which parts are unnecessary? Which are extraneous? Get rid of anything that isn’t critical. And remember, just because you are deleting the text from the slide doesn’t mean you are eliminating it from your presentation. On the contrary, you are simply speaking those words to your audience, which is inherently more personal and affecting.

Dodge Distraction

The aim of any given presentation is to deliver a specific message to an audience. Nothing should get in between you delivering that message to your audience. It’s the most important thing. Your delivery should be as seamless and straightforward as possible. Anything that is distracting to the audience should be automatically omitted, and that goes for text-heavy slides.

Engage your audience by discussing colloquially the topic at hand. Don’t distance yourself from the audience by lazily reading from a slide. Be animated and excited! Your voice belies much about yourself. It reveals your excitement and enthusiasm. It compels the audience to hang onto your every word. When you’re speaking to a slide, you direct the emphasis. You reveal what’s important. Eliminate all distractions by being a riveting presenter.

Stay Accessible

Another pitfall to avoid when delivering a presentation is alienating your audience with lots of complex words and complicated jargon. Albert Einstein is oft quoted for saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Touché, Mr. Einstein. After you’ve pared down your slide’s content as much as possible, go back through your presentation and think of how you can explain each one simply and colloquially.

Don’t turn into a lecturing history teacher who forces your audience to choose between reading bullet point upon bullet point and listening to your commentary. Make it easy for them: eliminate the choice. Talk to them. Tell them what you want them to know.

death-by-presentation (Photo credit: HikingArtist.com)