Public speaking is about connecting with an audience, plain and simple. Connecting with your audience, then, and giving them what they want, should be the goal of every public speaker.
I have spoken in front of live audiences since I was 7 years old, so being a professional speaker has been an easy jump for me in my career. Connecting with live audiences – whether as a college instructor, as a sales person making a pitch to a room full of prospects, an emcee, a keynote speaker, a breakout trainer, or a featured platform presenter – has been the way I have made my living my entire professional life. But it’s only been in the past couple of years I’ve begun using the slide show technology PowerPoint with my presentations – and then only if it’s asked for or requited of me.
PowerPoint is a fabulous visual aid. All speakers should be familiar with it and be able to prepare an effective PowerPoint presentation. Unfortunately the problem with PowerPoint is that it’s so easy to use incorrectly.
In fact there are so many potential user errors this article is limited to discussing and helping you eliminate just one. That one major problem I see with most PowerPoint presentations: too many words.
There are multiple reasons why having too many words on your PowerPoint slides is a definite no-no. But first let’s look at the purpose of a visual aid.
The job of a visual aid in any speech is to clarify or enhance a particular point you are presenting. As you prepare your visual aids keep that purpose in mind and with each slide you create ask yourself, “What exactly does this slide clarify or enhance and how?”
Some professional speakers actually argue you should never use any words on your slides. Why? Because as a speaker it’s your job to tell the story of your slides to an audience. I agree, images, graphics, tables, charts, and photographs can all stand alone without any written text. Yet, I believe well-chosen text can help clarify or enhance your slides.
Here are a few tips for reducing or eliminating “text clutter” from your PowerPoint slides:
- Limit the number of words: Each slide should ideally contain fewer than 10-12 words for maximum effect. Remember, it’s your job as the speaker to explain what the audience is seeing on each slide.
- Use compelling text: Your slides can ask a question, state a fact or statistic, provide a definition, or give a quotation.
- Find compelling images: Search the web for free clip art, royalty-free photography, and other images to help illustrate your story or main point. Or use your own. (Note: copyright infringement is illegal – just because you find a photo, image or graphic freely displayed on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s legal for you to use it. Make sure you’re not breaking the law!)
Remember your job as a speaker is to connect with, engage, and give the audience what they want. Your job is NOT to read them your slides as if you’ve just written the next great American (or British or Canadian or Australian) novel. When you’re reading you cannot engage – you’re busy reading – and the same is true with your audience. If they are busy reading your slides, they are not listening to and engaging with you either. Engage with your audience and you will be a dynamic public speaker.
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Felicia J. Slattery, M.A., M.Ad.Ed. is a communication consultant, speaker & coach specializing in training small and home-based business owners effective communication and public speaking skills so they can see more cash flow now.
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