The most common complaint of audiences about PowerPoint presentations is that the slides are loaded with text and the presenter simply reads their slides to the audience. In the presentations I review, I see this all the time. I am not suggesting that you should never use text, because I think text is essential to many messages. What I am suggesting is that by adding more visual impact, your audience will better understand and remember your message. If your slides are text heavy, consider these five ways to transform some of your text slides into more graphical and meaningful slides.
Transform Tables of Numbers into Graphs
If your slide contains a dense table of numbers, consider if a graph would better highlight the point you are trying to make. Too often I see presenters attempt to point out the important figures in a data table with a laser pointer – and the audience gets lost along the way. Instead, figure out what the data is supposed to be saying – is it a trend, a comparison between two data sets or a comparison of data within one set. All of these can be better illustrated with a graph. Make sure that your graph still includes text highlighting the key point so that the audience has no doubt about the message of the slide.
Transform Relationships into Diagrams
If you are describing a relationship between different items using paragraphs of text, consider using a diagram instead. A diagram will still include the relevant text, but it will visually show the relationship to the audience. Examples of relationship diagrams include Venn diagrams to show overlapping relationships, T-charts to show comparison relationships and Pyramid diagrams to show hierarchical relationships. The diagram will add meaning to the point you are making and not lose the key text that is important to the relationship.
Transform Processes into Diagrams
If you are describing steps in a process by listing each step as a new bullet point, consider using a process diagram to illustrate the steps instead. If you are describing a linear process flow, use a sequence diagram that shows a box for each step and arrows to show the direction of flow. You can use text inside or under each box to explain that step so the diagram is clear to your audience. If you are describing a cyclical process, use a cycle diagram that shows the process starting over once the last step is finished. Again, the text on the diagram adds clarity to the flow shown.
Transform Descriptions into Pictures
If you are describing places or people, consider replacing text with pictures. For locations such as cities or facilities, show a picture of the place and add a caption underneath so that everyone knows what the picture is. If you are talking about people, such as the members of a team, show their pictures to make it more personal. Pictures cut to emotions and get your audience emotionally involved in the presentation far more than words can ever hope to.
Transform Paragraphs into Bullets
Amazing as it seems, I still see far too many paragraphs on slides. Many times they are disguised as long sentences in a small font with a bullet in front of them, but in reality they are paragraphs, with no key point identifiable. Before putting a text slide together, determine what the important points are that you want the audience to understand from this slide. Then create short bullet points with the key words only. Your message will add to the key points with what you say. PowerPoint slides are not supposed to be a report simply displayed and read, so transform paragraphs into bullet points.
Take a look at your last set of slides and see if the text slides meet the 6 by 6 guideline – no more than six words in any bullet point and no more than six bullet points on a slide. Text slides certainly have their place in a PowerPoint presentation, but slides loaded with text are not serving the audience as well as purposely planned visuals can. Use the five ideas above to transform your overloaded text slides into meaningful slides that your audience will understand and remember.
Dave Paradi has over twenty years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written nine books and over 100 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don’t overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of less than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel and PowerPoint communities. He regularly presents highly rated sessions at national and regional conferences of financial professionals and is NASBA registered to deliver CPE credit courses to CPAs.