How to Put Audiences to Sleep With Your Presentations

Our intuition often fails us when it comes to creating decks that grab (and keep) attention. Sometimes we need a fresh perspective on our own presentation technique to shake us out of bad habits. Avoid these common pitfalls to ensure that your presentations are heard, understood, and remembered without inducing boredom in your audience.

1. Design a flyer instead of a slide deck

Oops! Not again! Your glorious print design skills are leaking into your presentation designs. Things like big headers, footers, page numbers, borders, logos, and other graphics that appear on every slide may be cramping your style and having a negative impact. If you make your audience search through extraneous visual data to get to the point you slow down their comprehension. Plus, after a while they start ignoring all of those little elements anyway — so you’re left with only a fraction of your slides that actually matter to what you’re talking about.

It’s there. I promise. You just have to squint.

Try and keep only elements that have to do with what your talking about at that exact moment. If you are required to add things like page numbers or logos to your deck then consider making a set of handouts with the more detailed elements instead of cramming them into your slides. This kind of trimming down also helps with detailed charts or longer text that doesn’t work well on a slide.

2. Have TOO FEW slides (that’s right)

Slides are cheap. They’re easy to make. They don’t kill trees by wasting paper. Make more of them! As a general rule, if you’re describing a topic with subtopics it’s okay to devote a slide to each subtopic, especially if you can include a single graphic or piece of text to emphasis your points. I know that some experts say to keep your deck to under 10 slides, but some times it helps to flip through slides a better pace instead of one every few minutes, which can quickly stagnate your audience if they have nothing different to look at.

We couldn’t afford more pixels than this. Ta-da!

Aim for flipping though a slide every 30 seconds to every minute. If you find yourself lingering on a slide for more than 3 minutes, see if you can split it up. I mean, it’s not like you’re printing your deck out, right?…. RIGHT?

3. Narrate instead of discuss

Believe it or not, it’s actually okay to read from your slides… IF your slides are interesting, concise, and you’re going to talk about the content before or after you read it. Sometimes the juxtaposition of sight and sound can aid in grabbing attention and retaining information. Just be sure to read the slide right when it comes up, so your audience isn’t reading ahead (see #6).

Take a look at this slide. It says “Take a look at this slide.”

Try and discus what you just read and give purpose to your lovely recitation. A 1:2 ratio of reading to discussing is a good starting rule. For example, if it takes you 10 seconds to read a quote from your slide, then try and talk about that quote for 20 seconds or more. This helps gauge how much text you should be reading.

4. Skip the preface

This is something that gets skipped like a Netflix intro. Do you want your audience to be excited? Be excited yourself. The first words out of your mouth once the switch is flipped and the presentations officially starts should be something like “Hey we have some exciting stuff to show you”, or “I really think you’re going to like this”. I know it’s cheesy but if done sincerely it acts as a subliminal implant and starts your audience thinking in a positive tone.

Hello, aaaaand… we’re done!

After that, you should be giving a solid outline of the SECTIONS (see #5) you’ll be covering. Remember, tell them what they’re going to see; tell them what they’re seeing; and then tell them what they just saw.

5. Blend it all together

When we want to remember lots of data our brain has a nifty trick to help us. It breaks things up into groups. Dividing your presentation is an excellent way to keep your audience engaged and to help them follow along.

I organize my presentation into sections divided only by awkward pauses.

Nothing is worse than being 20 minutes into an hour-long presentation and not knowing how the current slide fits into the bigger picture.

6. Be overly verbose with your vast volume of verses

Yes, it may be a masterpiece of information. Sure, it’s the climax of your big talk. But there’s waaaaay too many words or data on your slide. What happens when you add a chapter from Dostoevsky to your deck? Your audience will read instead of listen.

My apparent appetite for apropos and analogous alliteration always alleviates anxious attitudes.

Our brains are hardwired to prioritize sight over sound. If you’re saying something different than what’s on the slide (otherwise, see #3), you’ll never outmatch your audience who have already read ahead and started to digest information without you shepherding them through it at a good pace. Oh, and they weren’t paying attention to you at all while they were reading.