Ditch the Dull, Wordy PowerPoint Slides

Nobody wants to see your ugly, wordy PowerPoint slides. Slides are called “visual support” for a reason: they’re supposed to be visual. That means NOT like this:

Wordy PowerPoint Slides

I was reminded of this issue — well, I’m reminded of it at every conference and meeting I attend — but most recently during a debate on a forum for public speakers.

This speaker, who I do not know and may very well be a Winston Churchill among orators, objected to a group wanting to review his slides before his presentation. That’s a whole other subject. What I want to talk about is that a particular slide in his deck contained 31 words. THIRTY ONE. Here’s the text:

The events industry needs a bit of a shake up. The recession highlighted a problem that has been around for a while. Lack of creativity, lack of substance, lack of innovation.

It’s certainly not the wordiest slide I’ve ever seen. Remember, I wrote a whole book because of the experience of seeing 140+ words on a slide!

The Problem With Wordy PowerPoint Slides

But even 31 is at least 28 words too many. If you’re using a slide like this in a presentation, you have three choices:

  1. You can stand there in silence while your audience reads the text to themselves (at varied speeds, of course).
  2. You can read it aloud while your audience may or may not follow along. Some will read it to themselves faster, then start drifting off, thinking about what to have for lunch. Others will read slower and miss whatever your next point is.
  3. You can show the slide and say something else entirely, in which case your audience will attempt to both read the words on the screen and listen to what you’re saying and only pick up bits and pieces of either.

None of these options seems ideal to me. Before I talk about my proposed solution, check out this short (1:31) video on the problem of dull, ugly visuals:

A Proposed Cure for Death by PowerPoint

Here’s what I might do instead:

First, I would say this:

The events industry needs a bit of a shake up. The recession highlighted a problem that has been around for a while.

While showing something like this:


Dull wordy slides

Then I would make that third point:

Lack of creativity, lack of substance, lack of innovation.

While showing this:


Dull wordy slides

Of course, I’d probably say quite a few more words over these slides. After all, the audience is presumably here to see and hear a speaker, not to read a bunch of stuff.

One Potential Problem (And a Solution)

Now this approach does present one problem. If you pass your slide deck along to people who didn’t attend the presentation, they won’t understand all your points.

But you wouldn’t want to do that anyway. That’s cheating your audience, creating a one-size-fits-all presentation.

Instead, you’re going to have to create two different documents: a visual one for the people in the room, and a content-rich one (it could simply be an outline in Word) for everyone else.

More work, yes, but well worth it.

For Tips and Techniques On More Visual Presentations

So ignore all the advice you’ve heard (like 6 lines of text, 6 words per line) and make your presentation more visual. More pictures, fewer words. I offer a bunch of tips in this post, with links to lots of other resources.

Believe me, your audience will thank you.

Photo Credit: Travis Dewitz – Dewitz Photography via Compfight cc