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I Know This Slide is Sort of an Eye Chart…

I Know This Slide is Sort of an Eye Chart…

Slides that no one can read are worse than no slides at all

March 26, 2018

One of the biggest pet peeves I have with presentations is when an executive displays a PowerPoint slide that’s illegible and then excuses himself by saying, “I know this is a bit of an eye chart…”

I hate this. I use this statement when coaching teams on how to deliver great presentations. In my last corporate executive role, my whole team lived by this rule, so if an individual from another department or – heaven help him – a prospective vendor made that statement, I could feel eyes turn to look at me.

Presentations are inherently visual. Putting up a slide that your audience can’t read is akin to a DJ announcing, “You won’t be able to hear this next song at all, but here it is anyway,” followed by four minutes of silence.

I’ve done hundreds of presentations over the years. Early in my career, I, too, fell victim to presenting slides that no one could read because the content was so important. But if it’s really that important, how can you possibly allow it to be unreadable?

What’s worse is that this statement implies to your audience that you either don’t care that you’re frustrating them or you’re not smart enough to find a better way to present the material. I don’t think either of these is true, but I do think that’s the message you’re sending.

Fortunately, this is not a difficult problem to solve. If a slide is illegible, you have two practical choices:

  1. Don’t use it.
  2. Provide a printed handout to everyone in the audience and add a banner across the slide that says, “Refer to handout.”

Most of the time, you can break the slide into components that you can present in a way your audience can digest in pieces. Sometimes that means you have to re-think the idea; often the re-work has led me to better ways of telling my story.

When I absolutely must present a slide in a certain format and am pretty sure my audience won’t be able to read it, I always provide printed copies. In addition to making the content legible, it allows your audience to take notes on what is often an important concept.

Let’s keep eye charts where they belong – in optometrists’ and driver’s license offices. Business presentations are about delivering compelling and persuasive messages. Slides that no one can read are worse than no slides at all.

Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at ian@mdm.com.

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