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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