When the stakes are high, and your environment is very noisy, what do you usually do? You look for a less crowded space, some place with no noise so you can think.
When you are presenting to an audience, you also want to make them think, don’t you?
How do you aim to facilitate that with seventy words on a single PowerPoint slide? With tables so rich the audience can no longer tell whether it’s the stock market or your own analysis? With three or four topics on a single slide?
Your presentation slides probably are too crammed.
And it’s not PowerPoint’s fault.
What you may need is visual silence.
*This blog post is available in German language, too: »Visuelle Stille in Vortrag und Präsentation« *
Presentation Trainer Chris Reich gives compelling arguments for fewer words on your slides in his video:
”People cannot read while you talk. […] You have to stop listen and read.“
”People read at different rates. So as you read number one people have already scanned through and […] they are ready for the next point. The are not really paying attention to you.“
This is a very important concept to always consider when creating a talk with slides: What you tell—words—and what text you show on slides—words—requires attention of the very same processor area in your audience’s brains.
Ellen Finkelstein once provided an answer to the question How many bullets should I put on a slide?. The answer is striking: No bullets at all.
”With text, less is almost always more“, writes Aaron Weyenberg from TED in his profound tips on better presentation slides.
The Root Cause
Too many presentations are created by opening PowerPoint and start writing content. The result is that in this first draft…
- all your thoughts end up directly on the slides, as full manuscript,
- the slides follow your creative thought process rather than a well thought structure
The problem is when this first draft persists as the final product.
Aaron Weyenberg from TED gives the following important advice: ”Think about your slides last.“
Use a proper process for creating your presentation.
Think of it as the requirements and the specification of your presentation.
If you have anything to do with software or project management, the importance of requirements and specification should be striking to you.
When finished, be ready to remove a lot of text, as outlined in my previous (German) blog post on 3 quick steps to better slides.
Allow for empty space on your slides.
With no text, no words.
While you can use a beautiful image, you do not have to.
If you are a modest speaker like I am, a too powerful photo may be distracting as well.
Why do you perceive an Apple Store as a beautiful place for shopping? Because it has a lot of empty space.
Why is a Gothic Cathedral such a spiritual place? Because it has a lot of empty space.
Why do you enjoy the seaside or mountain range so much? Because it has a lot of empty space.
The empty space it what makes you breathe.
The empty space it what allows your brain to process whatever input you’ve got.
”When presenting allow for visual silence.“
In the same way you better aim to speak without filler words like ”uhm“ but make a deliberate pause and create silence, present without crammed slides but allow for visual silence.
Visual Silence means Power
The fewer words you have on your slide, the more power each word gets, and the larger each visual word can appear.
But what should happen with all the facts and bullets that you have collected during the creation of your slide deck?
The text with all the words does not need to be lost. It can very well serve as the things you want to say. Move all that text into the speaker’s notes section when using PowerPoint or a similar app.
This will focus the audience’s attention on you and your speech, assisted not dominated by your slides.
With Power comes Responsibility
The power of silent slides might feel uncomfortable at first, because with power comes responsibility.
There are no lengthy paragraphs to hide behind. When there is only a word or two on the slide, what you say matters more.
When you no longer can see everything you want to say on slide, you need to prepare better.
We could call this a downside, but I prefer calling it an opportunity. An opportunity for more memorable presentations.
Power of Visual Silence to You
How do you perceive visual silence? How do you react to that concept? What are some examples where you encountered great visual silence?
Please share for other readers as well as for me and comment!