How to Improve Your Presentations by Doing Less

Throughout my entire school career our computer classes centered on one thing: Microsoft productivity tools. Every year we learned a little more on how to utilize all that these tools had to offer. By the time we were in high school our spreadsheets were laden with functions. Our documents’s kerning and leading were specified to the millimeter. Our PowerPoint presentation a galore of smart graphics and animations.

With powerpoint, it felt only natural: to boost the engagement of our presentations, we had to make them filled with words and moving images. The reality, however, as I later learned, was the opposite.

By inundating our presentations with more information than the speaker conveyed, we were essentially distracting the audience. Not engaging them. How do you better engage your audience? Keep their attention on you. Not constantly switching between the presentation and the speaker. Below is a list of points to consider for your next presentation:

1. Keep your cards close to your chest

Your slides should not mimic all that you have to say. If your audience realizes that your presentation conveys all that you are saying as well, they’ll naturally begin to ignore you, and simply consume the information at their own pace by eyeing and reading the presentation.

Instead, ensure that the focal and important information is delivered by you, not the screen.

2. Slides should supplement, not substitute nor replicate your words

As stated above, if your presentation is just a visualized script, the audience will eventually tune you out.

Worse, however, would be if your presentations delivers information that could be used in place of what you are saying. This will send your audience into confusion! In essence, you’re setting them up for the impossible task of consuming information from two sources at once. No one can read two books, nor watch two videos, nor listen to two songs at once– how do you expect your audience to make sense of what you’re saying and the differing words of your presentation simultaneously?

Instead, the majority of the information on the screen should simply amplify what you are saying. If you’re describing a trip experience— don’t include bullet points that describe other experiences as well. Instead show pictures of what you are describing. If you are announcing statistics, don’t add additional ones on the screen as you recite, instead showcase the data that you are speaking out yourself.

3. Timing

No doubt, however, there are instances when vital information has to appear on the screen in addition to being spoken. But the moment in which you reveal that information is incredibly crucial. Suppose you’ve heeded all this advise so far and managed to trim the information from the presentation to its most minimal. The words on your slides have been trimmed from paragraphs to sentences to abridged keywords. Don’t make the habit of showcasing both the slide as you are stating those points. As with reiterating the information, the audience will eventually focus more on the presentation than on the words you are saying.

Instead begin the topic of your next slide before you move to it. Announce your topic, then switch to the next slide where it showcases the heading of the slide. Make your first point in spoken word, then as you are making your second, showcase the abridge point on the screen. And so on.

The key is this: if you have to reiterate information both verbally and onscreen, your words come first.

4. Flair is nice, when it’s appropriate

I understand it can feel enticing to use a dazzling feature on the presentation that few know how to access, never mind implement. But never forget the purpose of your presentation: you’re delivering information to an audience. Making sure that this information is in fact delivered is your primary goal. Anything that detracts from that has to be reconsidered. A cool transition or animation, especially if repeatedly employed, can undermine your goal. So keep the flair to a minimum.

Majed Alaryani is a member of the Class of 2021 at Dartmouth College.