Interacting with slides

Written by

Jerry Weissman

Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology is five months old and still, deservedly, going strong. Long may it wave.

Although Nancy and I have worked together for many years, I still keep going back to slide:ology for her wonderful creative ideas. I’m particularly taken with the structure of her Chapter 11, “Interacting with Slides.” One of the basic rules of any well-told story is to have a clear progression of its main ideas. Professional playwrights and screenwriters call this the “story arc.”

Nancy begins this particular chapter with a section called, “The Power of Constraints,” in which she makes a plea–a call–to exercise constraint in slides, and then concludes the chapter with a section called, “A Call to Relate.” That’s not only a very clear arc, but a symmetrical one that culminates the progression. The constraints she recommends are many: in the use of text on a slide, the amount of text on a slide, the number of slides in a presentation, and the length of a presentation.

Brava, Nancy! I–and legions of victimized audiences who have suffered through excessive presentations–wholeheartedly concur. As Nancy puts it so aptly, “Have you ever finished a presentation and had folks flock to you, begging you to make it longer next time?”

However, there is one other important constraint that all presenters must observe–even when they design slides according to the letter of the precepts in slide:ology–and that is in the presenter’s delivery. Most presenters, driven by the pressures of time, barrel through their slideshows as if they are trying to win the Indy 500, and never stop talking. This unbroken stream of verbiage creates a negative impact on the audience–and makes it very difficult for the presenter to relate to them. The arc is broken.

Here’s why the break occurs: The instant a new image appears on the projection screen, the audience suddenly shifts their attention to the screen and away from the presenter, and they do so involuntarily–driven by the reflex actions of their eyes. So focused is the audience on the slide, they do not hear anything the presenter says.

There is a simple solution to all of this: pause.

Stop sign with a building in the background

stop wait a minute… by Baby Skinz

How will the pause feel to the presenter?
Awful. An eternity.

How will that discomfort appear to the audience?
They won’t see it, because they will be focused on the screen.

Therefore, whenever you introduce a new slide, stop talking, turn to the screen and look at it. If the slide is animated, allow the animation to complete its full course of action. (For more about PowerPoint animation, please see my blog, “Animation and the Presenter.”) During your pause, look at the image as if you have never seen it, giving your audience time to see it, because they most certainly never have. At that moment, you and your audience fall into lock step.

Then, and only then, can you turn back to them–and relate.
Like that red octagonal stop sign, come to a full stop before proceeding.

Jerry Weisman Jerry Weissman is a wonderful friend of Duarte and is today’s guest blogger. He is the founder of Power Presentations and also publishes a blog about communication.

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