The “4S” Approach To Showing PowerPoint Slides

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 8, 2012 – 6:02 am

I’ve seen thousands of PowerPoint presentations over the past decade.

The majority of speakers present slides in the same way. They finish presenting the information contained on one slide, click to the next slide, and speak about the new slide, often reading it to the audience verbatim.

That approach is problematic for many reasons.

First, those speakers don’t give the audience any time to take in the new information, forcing audience members to choose between absorbing the material on the slide or listening to the speaker.

Second, the audience can read five times quicker than the presenter can speak, meaning that the members of the audience are already ahead of the presenter. They don’t need the speaker to read slides to them verbatim.

Third, by clicking to the next slide before introducing it, the audience may conclude that the speaker needs to see the next PowerPoint slide in order to remember what comes next in their own presentation.

There’s a better way to present each new PowerPoint slide, which I refer to as the “4S” approach:

1. Set It Up

Before clicking to the next slide, set it up by introducing the concept on the upcoming slide first. For example, you might say:

“Now that you’ve heard about our plan to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in shipping costs next year, I’d like to talk to you about something exciting we can do with all of that extra cash.”


2. Show It

Click to the next slide only after you’ve finished setting it up.

3. Stop Talking

This is the hardest step for most speakers. After you’ve clicked to the next slide, don’t speak for a few moments. Give your audience time to take in the new information before continuing to talk—if you continue speaking before they’ve had a chance to fully take in your slide, they won’t hear you anyway. One study, cited in The Definitive Book of Body Language, found that when there’s a battle between the eye and the ear, the eye wins 70 percent of the time.

Most speakers feel uncomfortable with silence, so they begin speaking again too soon. Fight the temptation. You’ll know when it’s time to speak again when the eyes in the room leave the screen and return to you.

4. Supplement It

Generally speaking, you provide little value to your audience by reading a slide to them. Audience members have already read it for themselves. You provide value by helping them make sense of what they’ve just seen. You can do that by adding context, summarizing a key takeaway, or using the slide as a bouncing off point to make a larger point.

For example, let’s say you click to your next slide, which reads:

“Our new shipping plan will save $425,000 in fiscal year 2013.”


Instead of reading that to the audience, you might say:

“So what are we going to do with this new windfall? We propose using it in three different ways. They are…”


Before your next speech, remember to use the 4S’s when showing each PowerPoint slide: Set it up, show it, set it up, and supplement it.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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