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How to make an awesome slide deck, and why you don’t need it

July 26, 2015


In speaking to audiences around the country, I’ve used slide decks in most of my presentations.

But I overdo it.

I make pretty decks, and then sometimes I put up the wrong deck. Or go without when the projector fails.

I practice with them, but I also rehearse without them.

Presentations aren’t about the speaker or about the slides — they’re about the information. I’ve been working more lately on my storytelling and delivery, how I can improve my stage presence, not with better visuals, but with better technique.

So let me explain how to make an awesome deck, and how to live without it.

How to make an awesome slide deck

1. Write an outline. I’ll usually have three main points, and back those up with at least two sub-points each. And an introduction and a conclusion.

2. Boil each line of the outline down to one or two words.

3. Look for one image to fill the entire slide. (In 2009, I found Mack Collier’s decks to be inspiring, so I emulated his style.) I typically use photos with Creative Commons licensing for commercial use, easily found on Flickr. Here’s a search for “turkey” for CC images.

4. Build the deck in PowerPoint with plain transitions. I don’t rely on the gimmicks of Prezi or fancy transitions.

I don’t use video clips: I find they wreck momentum. I do onscreen demos as needed, but I realize that any number of things can go wrong with them (no wifi, projector flicker, unexpected results).

5. I rehearse with the slides and a remote. And I rehearse without slides, just in case.

Why you don’t need your awesome slide deck that you worked very hard on

1. Communicate as though each word carries meaning, each sentence builds an idea. Be deliberate in choosing words and sentences to create a dynamic and meaningful talk.

2. Speak directly to each person in the room. We do this through eye contact, planted feet and careful attention to audience response (interested, sleepy, bored, confused, excited, distracted).

3. Very few concepts require slides or a screen: hands-on demos, diagrams or charts that require a lengthy explanation. Painting pictures with words fires up an audience’s imagination, rather than passively viewing a slide.

4. Some speakers use slides as a crutch, to remember where they are in the presentation (guilty) or to have the audience focus on the screen rather than themselves. But the speaker should be the star, able to carry the spotlight and the fickle attention span of five to 500 people.

5. The very best speakers work hard to deliver a captivating presentation through words, tone, gestures, expressions, pauses and pacing. The rest is window dressing.

Great presentations and speeches can have slide decks, may even be enhanced by them.

But great presenters and speakers know that success depends on audiences understanding new ideas and information, no matter how they’re packaged.

• • •

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