“My slides help me to remember what I am supposed to say”
“Communication is 55% visual, 38% vocal and only 7% the words that you use”
“Adding a picture or clip art to your slides makes them better ”
“There is an optimum number of slides for a presentation”
“Our presentations are very technical so you won’t be able to teach us anything about how to give them”
1. “My slides help me to remember what I am supposed to say”
At first glance this may seem fairly innocuous, but I think is is one of the most common and damning mistakes a presenter can make. Relying on your slides to remind you what to talk about next perverts the whole process of giving a presentation.
When giving a presentation, the presenter should lead the presentation supported by their visual aids. When you rely on your slides you inevitably bring each slide up before you start talking about that sub-topic. This means the slides are now leading the presentation and the presenter has been relegated to the role of describing what the slides say. The audience will read the slide quite quickly, and then, depending on the content of the slide, they will probably have a good idea of what it is your are about to say. This makes the presenter redundant.
In general, the best way to use slides is to start talking about a topic and then bring up the visual aid to support your statements.
2. “Communication is 55% visual, 38% vocal and only 7% the words that you use”
These statistics come from two separate studies carried out in the 1960’s by Alfred Merhabian, who was investigating how people communicate their emotions and attitudes. As with most statistics, these figures have been used to “prove” a wide range of different assertions about how you give a presentation and the relative importance of the three different aspects of a presentation.
What they don’t mean is that the words of your presentation are not important but as Mehrabian says, “when actions contradict words, people rely more heavily on actions to infer another’s feelings.”
For my part the important lesson to be learnt from these statistics is that all three aspects of your presentation, the words you say, how you say those words, and what the audience see while you say the words, have to be in-sync and giving a consistent message. If they are not consistent, the visual message will outweigh the aural message, which in turn outweighs the words spoken.
3. “Adding a picture or clip art to your slides makes them better ”
Over the last ten or fifteen years, there is a general trend in presentation skills training to promote the use of images and pictures in visual aids. Statements like “a picture is worth a 1,000 words” and “every picture tells a story” are fairly commonplace. This started with the introduction of clip art and has since expanded to include high resolution photographic images as computer processing power has increased to support the media.
While I won’t argue with the sentiment that a picture is worth 1,000 words, I do question whether adding a picture to the right of a set of bullet points is actually adding any value to a slide. A similar fate has tended to befall blogs. Often, at the start of a blog article is a picture which in some way relates to the content of the blog. The number of blogs about presentation myths, which I researched prior to writing this article, that have a picture of a unicorn at the start is quite remarkable.
Of course an appropriate image is far better than a list of bullet points, which should be avoided at all costs.
4. “There is an optimum number of slides for a presentation”
Over the years I have heard an enormous variety in terms of the number of slides that should be used in a presentation. Anything from zero to one every 10 seconds.
The slides should be the last part of developing a presentation. Once you have worked out what you are going to say and how you are going to structure the presentation, then you can start thinking about the slides. The slides should be considered as an additional layer in your presentation which will help to make it an interesting and memorable experience for your audience. Your slides are not your presentation!
As such there is no right number.
5. “Our presentations are very technical so you won’t be able to teach us anything about how to give them”
This myth is something I come across when I am promoting my presentation skills training, but I thought it would be worth including. This view is often held by engineers, scientists and technology leaders. They believe that their technology is so specialized that anybody who has not worked in their industry, or in some cases in their company, would be unable view to help them improve their presentations.
I think this is akin to someone saying that only a sports coach who can run faster than Usain Bolt could coach Usain into running faster.
A good trainer or coach does not need a deep understanding of the topic of a presentation to help people create and deliver such a presentation. What they do need is a knowledge and understanding of both the art and science of presenting.
I wish you every success with your future presentations
All the Best