Context Before Conclusion; Issue #285 April 30, 2013

When you show a slide on the screen, the audience will naturally look at it and start to decipher it. When they believe they understand it, they turn back to the presenter to hear what they are saying. Notice the sequence. The audience comes to a conclusion about the meaning of the slide before they have heard a single word from the presenter. What if they came to the wrong conclusion? How easy is it to change their mind? Not very easy at all. In this article, I want to talk about how presenters can give the audience context before they come their own conclusion.

The issue of the audience coming to the wrong conclusion about a slide can only happen if you display the slide with all the content on it from the start. This is the typical way that slides are presented unfortunately. As presenters we may think that the audience is listening to us as they are looking at the slide, but they aren’t. Brain research tells us that the audience can’t read and listen at the same time very well. So they usually focus on the reading of the slide. This leads them to come to a conclusion before we have given them the context for understanding the slide.

That is why in my workshops and my book Present It So They Get It, I suggest that you build your slides piece by piece instead of displaying all the content at once. By building your slides, the audience only sees a portion of the slide content, and their attention comes back to you quickly to understand what they are looking at. Once you have given them an explanation, they come to the conclusion you wanted them to about this piece, and you can move on to display the next piece of the slide content.

The easiest way to build the content on your slides is to use the animation feature of PowerPoint. But I don’t talk about animation much anymore. Why? Because the term animation has a very bad reputation when it refers to PowerPoint. People too often think of the twirling, swirling, flying, and bouncing types of effects that are distracting and annoying. It has even led some organizations to ban the use of animation. I agree that we should severely limit the use of the annoying effects. But a total ban robs the presenter of a useful tool to help focus the audience through the presentation.

Instead I suggest you talk about building your slides. While you do end up using the animation feature, building is a more acceptable term to use than animation. It shows a focus on serving the audience and helping them understand your message. Many features in PowerPoint can be used well or poorly. Just because some presenters have gotten too excited and used the crazy effects doesn’t mean we should ban animation all together. It would be like banning text from presentations because a few presenters have used the crazy WordArt text effects. Be conscious of your choices and focus on helping your audience understand the valuable message you have to share by building your slides piece by piece to give the audience context before they come to a conclusion.