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Is Your Audience Hearing You?

Is your audience hearing you?

How less text commands more attention in a PowerPoint presentation

Just like people, PowerPoint decks can suffer from information overload.

A deck that’s overstuffed with text leads to a tuned-out audience. That’s not just because text-heavy slides are boring and unsightly (which they are). It’s because these slides detract from the words that you, the presenter, are saying in your presentation.

Here’s why: People are not good at listening and reading at the same time. The brain can only process language through one input at a time. The brain also absorbs information faster when it’s read versus heard. So if you present your audience with a large block of text, they will immediately stop listening to you and start reading the text.

Text-heavy slides also tend to weaken your skills as a presenter. Research shows that speakers who treat their slides like index cards or speaker notes end up being more anxious during their presentations. They’re also more likely to omit important details during their talks.

Striking the right balance

So what’s the right balance? How do you know if your slides have too much text?

A good rule of thumb is to limit each slide to one key idea. To support that idea, you can go one of three routes: Add a couple of supporting bullet points. Include an infographic that reinforces your takeaway. Or feature a picture that reflects your message and emotionally resonates with your audience.

The same goes for your speaker notes—those notes that are only visible to you, that is. Resist the temptation to load your notes with detailed paragraphs as a means of preparation. Not only will these notes make you sound like you’re reading off a script, they’ll prevent you from connecting with the audience and keeping tabs on the energy in the room.

That also means that you’ll need to spend more time rehearsing your presentation. However, that’s a good thing. More preparation will help you gain confidence as a presenter, encourage you to speak more naturally in front of a crowd and enable you to better engage with your audience.

The goal is to keep the focus on you—not your deck—during the presentation. Think of your deck as a sidekick. It should support you, not steal the show. 


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