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A few months back I attended a presentation where the speaker went through about 80-90 complicated slides in the first 45 minutes of a one hour session. At that point he said, "I'm going to have to speed up if I'm going to get through all these slides." He went on for another 20 minutes (overrunning his time) and there was no time for discussion or questions.

The audience will not remember all your slides no matter how well your presentation is constructed. You want the audience to ask questions! You want lively discussion! You want to get the audience interested in your work! These goals are more important than getting through every slide. Talking faster does nothing for the audience.

Before your presentation develop a plan for how you will proceed if the time is shortened by either a good discussion or other factors, like the Chairman showing up late. Figure out how you will verbally summarize the parts you're not going to get through and whether there are one or two slides in the omitted sections that really are essential. If you use the technique of "building up" a presentation rather than cutting it down, this task will be easy (see first the earliest tip on this blog).

How many times have you seen presentations where the fonts on the graph axes are too small to read? Perhaps there are 5 or 6 graphs on the page, all with axes that are unreadable.

When you flip on a new slide the listener needs to flip their mental state to start comprehending the new slide. Taking time to explain the axes of your graph is the perfect way to introduce a new slide. Use your pointer and point to the Y axis and tell the audience what it represents. Then do the same for the X axis. Be deliberate!

Axes should be labeled in clear large font (24 bold, Helvetica is great, 18 bold is tolerable, less than that is invisible). Also don't be lazy and reproduce the vertical layout of text that pops out of Excel. Erase it and rewrite the Y axis label in the horizontal mode so the audience doesn't have to bend their necks.

Perhaps human beings have been speaking long enough so that natural selection has improved our oral comprehension skills. We probably have not been reading long enough and we certainly have not been listening to PowerPoint presentations long enough to have evolved toward mastery. Audiences are not good at listening to slide presentations and it is up to the speaker to help them.

There are five listening challenges facing the audience:

1. Multi-tasking

2. Information overload

3. Slide transitions

4. iphones

5. Slide fatigue

Multi-tasking: A slide presentation asks the audience to read the slides, listen to the speaker, watch the speaker, and watch the pointer. Unless the speaker can create a synergy among these these modes there is no point in having a slide presentation. A common error is when the speaker creates separate audio and visual narratives. Use the pointer to connect the speaker's words with the particular part of the slide being discussed.

Information Overload: The audience does not know what the next slide will contain. Each slide is a surprise. So it is very easy to overwhelm them with too much information. As a rule, remove anything on the slide that you don't discuss.

Slide Transitions: Slides break up what should be a coherent narrative into micro narratives (individual slides). It is up to the speaker to provide the words that bridge one slide to the next and keep the story coherent.

iphones: The audience doesn't hear everything you say and nowadays they are texting or looking out the window. You need to have device that helps the audience "hop back on" to the talk if they have gotten lost. Think about repeated use of an outline slide with arrows showing which part of the talk is coming up.

Slide Fatigue: Just remember that listening to a slide presentation is a passive activity and people generally don't learn well as passive listeners. This problem is unavoidable, but we can minimize it by having a compelling narrative.

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