Presenters: Stop ignoring your slides – and annoying your audience! (5 ways to Maximize Audience Attention)


Here’s some news worth celebrating:  The number of presenters tediously reading every slide and bullet point to their audience appears to be on the decline.  But hold off on popping the champagne just yet.  The pendulum is swinging dangerously towards the other extreme – presenters are ignoring their slides altogether.

Here’s an example from a presentation I recently observed:

On the screen in front of me a slide with a statement in 60 point Arial Bold all but screamed at me.  Naturally I expected the salesperson to mention it.  He did not.  The next slide featured 5 bullet points.  The salesperson brushed them all aside with a quick “you’ve expressed a number of goals in this area” before jumping to the next slide, a short quote.  As I read the quote (I assumed that was what I was supposed to do), he started talking about something else.  I’m not sure what (I was busy reading).  My attention ping-ponged between presenter and slides like this for 30 more minutes. In the end, I’m not sure what point(s) I was supposed to walk away with.

I’d like to say this is rare, but it’s not.

An alarming number of presenters are ignoring their slides completely or competing with their slides for the attention of their audience. Talk tracks are often entirely different from what the audience is seeing on the screen.  From an audience perspective, it’s like seeing two presentations simultaneously.

Has the advice “Don’t read from your slides” gone too far?

Relax.  I am definitely NOT calling for a return to reading from every slide.  It is never acceptable to read every slide to your audience or use your slides as a crutch. But like most advice, taken to the extreme, it can have negative consequences.

Here’s what happens when you ignore or compete with your slides:

  • You are not heard. Put something in writing in front of a people and they will try to read it. When people are reading from your slides, they are not listening to you and miss your point.
  • You create confusion. If you fail to call out something on screen that literally screams for attention, your audience will wonder why, and suddenly you’ve lost them.
  • You cause tune out. When your talk track doesn’t match your slides, your audience struggles to connect the dots.  Make it too difficult to connect and they will stop trying altogether.

Your slides are part of your sales team, and they can improve your chances of reaching your goal. But like any good team member, you need to work with your slides – not against them.  That may mean allowing space for your audience to take in a slide’s meaning before you speak, reading part of a slide outloud to reinforce a key point, or explaining to your audience what they are seeing on a slide.

5 Guidelines to Maximize Audience Attention with your Slides:

  1. If something is important enough to be presented in 30+ point type, it’s important enough for you to mention.
  2. Don’t show a slide until you are ready to refer to it, or the slide mirrors or supports what you are saying.
  3. When you want your audience’s full attention focused on you – not the slide – go to black, or have a simple resting slide on the screen.
  4. When showing bullet points, don’t paraphrase everything. Make it easier for your audience to follow along by pulling out a few key bullet points verbatim in your talk track.
  5. When showing a slide with a compelling picture, quote or statement, pause and wait an appropriate length of time for your audience to take in what they’re seeing.   If it’s a short quote (think 1-3 sentences), statement, invite them to read it to themselves or read it out loud to them.  Your audience will be reading it anyway. And I assume you want them to, yes?

For those who have stopped reading from every slide and bullet point.  Audiences around the globe thank you.  Now, start working WITH your slides – not against them – to improve your audience’s experience and improve your results!

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