In a workshop last week in the Boston area a participant noticed that I effectively used black slides during the workshop and wanted to know more about how and when to use them. It is a topic I cover in the workshop, and in this article I will share with you what I told the group in Boston about using black slides.

The basic premise of a black slide is that there is nothing on the screen for the audience to look at. In the absence of a visual, where does the audience naturally look? At the presenter. Now, as the presenter, you have 100% of the audience’s attention. Nothing is distracting them from what you are about to say. That is quite powerful. So when should you use a black slide?

The first use follows from the focus that the audience will have just on you. Use a black slide when you want to tell a powerful story that illustrates your point. In my workshops, I demonstrate this use when I black the screen and tell a story about how the idea I have just shared with the participants helped in a real presentation situation. The audience is paying full attention to you when you tell the story.

In this first use of a black slide, you know exactly when the story will be told and you can create a black slide in your PowerPoint file. The easiest way to create a black slide is to add a new slide and draw a black rectangle to cover up the entire slide. This method is much easier than trying to change the background of the slide to black. It also will work when you copy this slide to another place in your presentation or even another presentation.

The second use for a black slide is not something you can plan for in advance. When someone asks a question during the presentation, should you leave the slide up or go to a black slide? The answer depends on whether the visual on the screen is relevant to the answer you are giving. If the visual is not related to the answer, go to a black slide. That way, the audience will focus only on the answer you are giving and not be distracted or confused by the visual that does not relate to the answer. How can you go to a black slide at any time during your presentation? Simply press the period key (.) in Slide Show mode. This acts as a toggle between the current slide and a black slide.

The third use for a black slide could be planned or could be spontaneous. Any time you want to move in the room and will walk through the beam of the projector, go to a black slide before you move. One of the most annoying things you can do is walk through the projected image or stand blocking part of it. If you want to move from one side of the room to the other, just go to a black slide, move across the room, then go back to the slide you want to speak about. If this is planned as part of your presentation, you can create a black slide at that spot in the presentation using the technique described above. If it is spontaneous, black out the slide using the period key described above.

There is no rule saying you always have to have a slide on the screen. When you want to focus the audience and not distract them with an image on the screen, use a planned or spontaneous black slide. Your presentation will be more effective when you do.