With information overload being the number one issue for audiences today, how can presenters better organize their information so it is easier to understand? I see hundreds and hundreds of slides for each customized workshop I do as I create the slide makeovers for that group. I have come up with four clues that I look for in the words being used on the slide that indicate an opportunity to better organize the message for the audience.
One of the common mistakes I see presenters make is to have the same titles on a series of slides or use the word "continued" in the slide title. The problem is that this assumes that the audience can remember all the points across multiple slides and put all of the information together to figure out the message. The audience just won’t do it, even if they have a handout to refer to. Instead, have a slide to introduce this section that shows how the different parts are related. Then you can have one slide for each of the parts that you want to explain. This way, the audience has context for the points and can then follow along much easier.
If I see a series of bullet points with the same word repeated in each point, it triggers the thought that the presenter is probably trying to compare items on multiple criteria. A slide I looked at had bullet points that contained pros and cons for each type of cable, with many of the items in each category repeated for the different cables. A much better way to organize the information is in a comparison table. Have the criteria on the left side, and each column can then show how that cable measures up on that criteria. When I showed the group the "after" slide, they saw how much easier it was to understand.
Another clue I look for is a title that says either "high level", "summary", "overview", or a similar term at the top of a dense slide packed with information. An overview is supposed to be just that. The few key points that the audience needs to know. Not everything you know about the subject. If you are creating a summary or overview slide, force yourself to a limit of four to six short points at most. This gives the audience and idea of where you will be going. Then you can have additional slides for each of the points including the details you want to share.
The fourth clue I look for is in the Speaker Notes section for the slide. If I see instructions that say "Read this slide" and the slide is not a legal disclaimer that must be read as is, I know the slide has a big problem. The problem is that slide is not for the benefit of the audience, it is for the benefit of the speaker, to remind them what to say. Organize your information into two parts. The first part is what the audience needs to see in order to keep them on track, and this can go on your slide. The second part are your notes, which can go in the Speaker Notes section of the slide so you can see them in Presenter View when you are speaking. You can also put your notes on cue cards, paper, your iPad, or whatever method will remind you of important points to emphasize. The slides the audience sees should never be your speaker notes.
When you are creating slides or reviewing slides from others, look for these four word clues in order to better organize the information. You will find it easier to present, and your presentation will be more effective.
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.