Presentation Slides: They’re Just a Message Delivery System!

Example of a Busy Presentation Slide
Example of a Busy Presentation Slide

Example of a Busy Presentation Slide

I participated in a two-hour project review the other day, during which the project manager, the product development team and other individuals presented their respective portions of the program effort.  The audience consisted of about 20 individuals, all of whom sat in the conference room for those two hours.

RELATED: How To Make an Executive Summary (w/ Sample Slides)

The intent of these periodic reviews is to gather feedback and direction from the more senior members of the business.  Typically, discussions include things like a financial outlook compared to the initial plan, any changes in strategic direction, and visibility to any technical challenges.

When it came time for the technical portion of the presentation, a young, high-energy developer stood up to present his design.  He spoke clearly, and explained his various decisions and challenges.  Shortly into his 30 minute segment, however, the questions began.

It was clear from the discussion that he knew what he was talking about and had a lot of information to discuss.  Unfortunately, though, his slides were full of data, pictures and commentary.  All of the information was relevant to the project and what he was working on, but there was simply too much of it.  Listening to the presenter and observing the slides, the audience repeatedly veered off topic, often confused or seeking clarification.  “You say the tests showed the technology will work, but you’re also saying you are planning more testing.  Why?”  As he continued through his slides, more questions and comments came in response to the data and notations on the screen.

The young developer’s 30 minute slot approached an hour, and be began stumbling through his presentation as more questions were asked.  His frustration morphed into despair.  Some of us who were more familiar with the project jumped in on occasion to help him explain his points to the broader group.  But by the end his portion of the review when he sat back down, he was visibly unhappy with his performance in the spotlight.   The feedback was not at all negative, but he knew he could have done better.  All of this resulted from his slides, which were too complex and extremely detailed.

Later that afternoon, I brought him into my office to give him a pep talk.  He was still upset that his presentation drew so many comments and questions, especially since he had prepared extensively.  As he often did, he beat himself up over the experience.  “I could have done better” he said.  I then explained to him where he went wrong.

“When making a presentation, the primary purpose of your slides is to support your message” I said.  His head still hung down.  I continued.  “You need to remember that your slides are simply a message delivery system, not the central vault for all your data.”  We talked at length about what happened, and how he could improve the next time.   I suggested the most important thing to focus on was keeping his slides clean, full of white space, and to use them to facilitate discussion.  Too much information, I told him, diluted his message.  “Less is more.”

Presentation slides are simply a message delivery system.  They should be clean, to the point and designed to guide a discussion.  When they contain too much data and excessive commentary, they will typically weaken your message since they become distracting.  For more information, see our step by step guide detailing how you create a great slide presentation.

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