Your slides are crap

I’ve been to several conferences recently, and 95% of the slides were crap.

Readers of my blog are surely in that elusive minority of presentation gurus. But just in case, here’s how to improve your next talk.

First, remember slides are a scaffold to help your audience follow along. They’re not a substitute for the voiceover you provide. In fact, if your slides make sense without you talking, you’ve put way too much content on them.

Avoid this dilemma by making everything on your slide larger and simpler. This means fewer words on your slides in a big font. Turn that wall of text into four words that summarise your point. Or, better, a picture. Convert complicated diagrams into simple blocks.

You can test your slide by zooming out to 25%, so it looks tiny in PowerPoint. Does it still make sense? This is how it will look from the back of the conference hall. If something is confusing or blurry, make it simpler and larger.

(Side note: I hate when someone apologises for their cluttered slide before explaining they won’t cover all of it. Why did they show it, then? They knew it was rubbish and couldn’t be bothered to edit it. Grrrr!)

Secondly, your presentation should probably tackle fewer topics. Your audience has a tiny attention span, degraded by a decade of social media and TikTok. Pick one big thing to talk about and repeat yourself many times to make an impact.

Contrary to popular opinion, fewer slides aren’t necessarily better. It can be quite engaging to switch slides every thirty seconds, provided there isn’t much information on each slide. If you have to animate in lots of pieces of your slide, it probably deserves to be split across three or four slides.

Finally, don’t finish your talk with a “Q&A” slide. Instead, have a summary slide of your main point (or a call-to-action) and leave it on the screen while you take questions. That way, your main point is still seeping in while you’re answering the audience.

Next time you’re at a conference, look for talks that follow these rules and notice how enjoyable they are!