- Fewer slides are better: This myth sounds good, but leads to overcrowded slides or slides with complex graphics on which the speaker plans to spend considerable time. A better alternative? One thought per slide, to allow your audience time to absorb each point.
- I need a slide for every thought: The reverse is another common myth. The idea that you need a slide for every thought suggests that the speaker can't communicate without a slide in play. This is how truly overcrowded slide decks are born. Consider moving to a blank or patterned slide without text from time to time, when you don't need to show something. Your audience will reward you with its close attention.
- Picture slides solve all these problems: The idea that you can simply use pictures on every slide just doesn't work. Your audience can tell when you use one picture per point, for example, or use pictures as cues. Instead, make sure each slide pulls its weight.
- Animations and other graphic tools keep the audience from being bored: Often, I find that speakers who are themselves bored with bullet slides overuse animations, fades, zooms, and other tools available in slide software. All graphic tools can be used to good effect...but sparingly. A deft hand will do more than an abundance of effects. And remember: If you're bored, we'll be bored. The solution doesn't lie in overuse of a tool.
- My slides need to repeat my spoken words, for emphasis and retention: Here's where many speakers' slides go far astray. Let me quote from TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking: "there is no value in simply repeating in text what you are saying on stage. Conceivably, if you are developing a point over a couple of minutes, it may be worth having a word or phrase onscreen to remind people of the topic at hand. But otherwise, words on the screen are fighting your presentation, not enhancing it." Put another way, if the words are coming out of your mouth, we should not see them on the screen.
- I need slides that create a takeaway: These may include a title slide with your presentation name, your name, the date, and the event; a contact slide; a slide for every point (see above); a contact information slide; and even a "thank you" slide at the end. The problem? These slides don't add one bit to your presentation. And most slides-as-notes go unread; even the shortest slide decks are read later, fully, just 40% of the time. Leave the leave-behind notes for posting on a website, not sharing with your live audience. If your talk is captured on video, consider posting a transcript instead of crafting your slides as notes.
Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.