Being too emotionally invested in your slides leads to less effective presentations; Issue #211 June 1, 2010

PowerPoint Tip: Being too emotionally invested in your slides leads to less effective presentations

I’ve spent some time thinking about the different reasons why presenters don’t create presentations that are as effective as they could be.  One of the reasons is that too many presenters start their preparation by creating their slides.  They spend a lot of time getting all the text and numbers just right on every slide.  And when somebody suggests a more effective visual approach, they resist, and end up using the original, overloaded slides.

Why the resistance?  Because they are heavily invested emotionally in the slides they spent so much time creating.  It is human nature to resist changing something that we put a lot of time and effort in to.  We think that since we spent so much time on it, there is no way we are just throwing it out and starting over again.  Our emotions take over, and it has nothing to do with the rational logic that the new approach is better at effectively communicating our message.

To help prevent this from happening, I always suggest that presenters start their preparation away from the computer.  Start by thinking about the goal of the presentation: what you want the audience to do at the end of the presentation.  Think about where the audience is now, and jot down three to five steps that will move the audience from where they are to where you want them to be by the end of the presentation.  Write down what proof, evidence, and support you have to back up your main points.  This is the structure of your presentation, and can be done on a whiteboard, pad of paper, or, my favourite, sticky notes so I can move them around.

Once you have your message organized, check it with others to make sure it is sound.  Ask colleagues if the structure makes sense for this audience.  Check with your boss to make sure it covers the areas she wants it to address for this audience.  Check with audience members to make sure it addresses their important concerns or areas that they most want to know about.

Only after you have a good structure should you begin developing the visuals that will support your presentation.  The structure helps to focus the message and helps to reduce the tendency to put everything we know on the slide.  Since we understand the structure, we can more readily use visuals that we will speak to during the presentation.  We are not spending time trying to organize our thoughts during the creation of the slides, the organization is already done.

This approach actually cuts down the presentation preparation time since less time is spent revising slides due to the structure of the message being revised.  In a typical presentation that does not start by creating a good structure, many of the revisions are done to improve the message, not to make the slides better.  This time can be drastically reduced by starting with the preparation of a good message structure.

Remember that the goal is to communicate effectively what the audience needs to hear from you on this topic.  It is not about how much time you spent carefully putting every word and number on your slides.  Start with the structure, and reduce the emotional investment you have in your slides.  You will end up with a more effective presentation.