More than one presentation that I’ve been too has been a festival of slides. People cycle through page after page of graphics and eye chart text. The problem with those kinds of slides is that they tend to bore the audience. When the audience gets bored, their attention span tends to wander. And when it does, you get people asking to move through the presentation a bit faster. They might even ask you to skip to the end. That’s when you sometimes hear the trademark phrase of a marginal presenter:
“But, I just have one more slide.”
I really don’t like this phrase. This smacks of a presentation that is more important than it needs to be. I think back to a famous quote by Coco Chanel:
“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take something off.”
Coco has a great point here. No matter how beautiful you think something might be, something can almost always be removed. In the same way, there’s almost always a slide that can be removed in any presentation. Based on some presentations that I’ve been forced to sit through in a former life, there are usually many slides that can be removed. The point is that no one slide should be that critical to your presentation.
One More Slide is the siren call of a nervous presenter. When someone has spent all their free time practicing a presentation because they don’t feel totally comfortable speaking in front of people they tend to obsess over details. They spend all their time practicing their delivery over and over again down to making the same jokes to be sure they don’t sound rehearsed. That’s how they plan on making it through their presentation – by making sure that nothing can derail them. When the time comes to present to the group they feel like they must go through every slide in the order that they were rehearsed otherwise they will fail. They have absolutely no faith in their ability to ad lib if needed.
At any point during a presentation, you need to feel comfortable enough with your speaking ability to jettison the slide deck and just talk if needed. Good speakers can work from a minimal slide deck. The best speakers don’t need one at all. Being able to give your presentation without your slide deck is the sign of a well prepared person. But being able to move around in your presentation deck to different subjects shows an even greater ability. If you get caught up in making sure that your audience sees everything that you’ve put on the screen you’ve made yourself no better than a boring presenter that reads the bullet points back to the audience. Each slide should be a self contained unit unto itself that allows you to move on without it and not lose the whole point of the presentation.
Try this next time you want to practice: Do your presentation backwards. Does is still make sense? Does it still flow easily from slide to slide without a lot of exposition? If so, you’ve reached the point where you can skip slides with no ill effects. If you have slides that lead into other slides you should ask yourself what’s included on those first slides that can’t be included on the later ones. In the event you have to ditch the last half of your presentation will thing still make sense even if you have to stop in the middle of a slide? Slides that tease the audience by doing things like asking rhetorical questions or attempt to engage the audience usually fall into the category of Leave It Out. If you have to ask the audience a question to get them engaged, you never had their full attention in the first place.
I have a rule of thumb when I present. If I can’t do my presentation without a network connection, laptop, or even a projector then I’m not ready to do it yet. My slides serve as much as my notecards as they do to keep the audience focused. I need to be prepared to do my talk with just my voice and my hands. That way if I’m forced to jettison my prepared notes to explore a discussion topic or I need to shorten my presentation to rush to the airport to beat a blizzard I’m more than ready. When you can give a presentation without needing to rely on aids then you are truly ready to go without one more slide.