“The music is not in the piano.”
I once saw this quote by Clement Mok on a poster and have never forgotten its message, particularly when I see speakers giving presentations with highly bulleted PowerPoint slides. Know what I’m talking about? Slides with graphics pulled from the web with list upon list of bullet points and text galore. The speaker sure gets through each and every point, but often loses the audience early on. The focus of the talk from the speaker’s perspective becomes the slides rather than the speaker’s message. And that core message has to work that much harder to get through.
The slide portion of your presentation can be a powerful instrument, like the piano, and can actually be a great partner: reaching your audience, compelling them to pay attention. Here are three key things I remember when creating slides for presentations we do with our clients:
1. Simplicity always, always trumps complexity in a talk. Simplicity is a key element in doing an effective and compelling presentation. This does not mean simple. A well-designed slide is one that has clarity—the arrangement is well thought out, words are pared down to their essence, and concepts are prioritized. At the same time, the presenter fills in relevant information—often with a story from his or her own experience. The content becomes personal and grounded in the speaker’s experience. That way, the audience can connect and relate more authentically with the speaker.
2. Know precisely what you want your audience to take away. Keeping it simple, with just two to three points you want to be remembered, also serves another purpose: You increase the odds that your audience will remember what you said. According to Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, “There is simply a limit to a person’s ability to process new information efficiently and effectively.” When you have too much information, your audience has to cope with what Garr calls “excessive cognitive strain,” and your message, even though it may be a good one, gets lost in the clutter of too much information. Have two to three concepts or take-aways you want them to remember. The clearer you are, the more likely you and your message will be remembered.
3. Spend the time to make it yours. Too many people wait till a few days before the talk to do the “PowerPoint” portion and undercut themselves in having their presentation be a partner, rather than an afterthought. Steve Jobs is known for spending many hours on his presentations, both on the visuals and on the words, so that they appeared effortless in the delivery. So construct each slide with care to make sure it communicates efficiently and elegantly. Then, remember that the audience is there to hear what you have to say about the topic. Because, when it comes down to it, the presentation is not about the slides, it’s really about you and the experience you bring.
The slides are a partner to your message. The slides can either underline what you have to say or get in the way. Think again of Steve Jobs, a master of presentations who famously valued design—and thought like a designer. Most people remember him, the experience he created, and how he spoke about Apple’s products. The slides, which were beautifully done, added substance to what he was describing. The slides were his tools, but he was the show.