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Blank Slide Syndrome

Tomorrow you are presenting an overview of the project you are working on to the entire department. You blame your workload as the reason you procrastinated until the last minute to start preparing for the presentation. You open the company PowerPoint template, choose File/Save As, name your presentation, and begin your masterpiece. The title slide is easy – project name, your name, and the date. Then you insert the first slide and stare at the ‘click to add text’ prompt because you’re not sure where to start. I like to refer to this as Blank Slide Syndrome.

Blank Slide

Does this sound familiar? You’ve probably heard of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “If you keep doing what you’re doing and you expect different results.” Why not try a different approach for your next presentation? Design your slides last – start by gathering information about the audience.

Start with the Audience
How do you ensure your message resonates with your audience? John Maxwell, author of “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect” says, “adapt to your audience - don’t expect them to adapt to you.” Start by understanding your audience. The following three questions will help you prepare the right message for the right audience:

  • Who are they?
  • Why are there here?
  • How will they benefit?

Who will be in the audience? Whether you said employees, customers, co-workers, or executives, the follow-up question is: “What would you do, say or show for that audience?”

Why will they be in the audience? Whether you said to learn, make a decision, ask questions, or because it was mandatory attendance, the follow-up question is: “What would you do, say or show for that audience?”

How will the audience benefit? Whether you said informed, updated, inspired or educated, the follow-up question is: ‘What would you do, say or show for that audience?”

Develop the Message
Now that you know your audience, we can use that information to build and develop the message. Just talking (or worse – talking at your slides) is not an effective delivery of information. A great presentation must have structure and flow.

A simple technique would be to identify three points, support each point with facts, examples, analogies, and stories, and then connect those points with good transitions. That works! The key is not to overload your audience. Jerry Weissman, author of “Presenting to Win” says, “Don’t tell people everything you know. Tell them what they need to know.” Depending on the situation and the topic, you could structure your presentation using one of the following strategies:

  • Problem / Action / Result - to review a past situation
  • Good / Bad / New - to review a current situation
  • What / Why / How - to describe a future situation

Design the Slides
Assuming you will be using a slide deck, a recipe for disaster is when your visual aid becomes the presentation. Garr Reynolds, author of “Presentation Zen” says “Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren’t the same. Attempts to merge them result in a Slideument.” When properly prepared, visual aids can be a valuable asset to your presentation. They can liven up your presentation by making your ideas more understandable and more interesting, while adding to your overall credibility. A presentation with visual aids is more persuasive and more memorable. Well-designed slides allow the audience to easily follow the message and retain the key points after the presentation. Below are three examples of how to design simple slides.

  • Text: simple text to compliment your message
  • Graphics: graphics to emphasize your main point
  • Text + Graphic: a combination of text and graphics

slide examples

Final Thoughts
A presentation is an opportunity to deliver your message with emphasis, incorporating good vocals, body language, structure, flow, and a story – all with good visual aids. If none of these characteristics mattered, you would simply email a document (or spreadsheet) with your findings or post them on DropBox for your intended audience to review at a later date.

Try a different approach the next time you have to deliver a presentation and avoid Blank Slide Syndrome. First, start with your audience. Then, develop the message with structure and flow. Finally, design great slides that compliment your message. Your audience will thank you by giving you their attention – which after a presentation leads to retention.

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  • Stephanie Silverman

    Posted on 06.11.2015


    This is one of the most concise and useful guides to preparing content I’ve seen. Thank you for sharing these pointers – I will make sure all my clients have a link to this post for reference.

    Great stuff!

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