[On] Point to Ponder: So Close…and yet So Far.

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It happens every once in a while. And the truth is, it’s frustrating. Conflicting.  I’m in the audience, watching a presentation, and everything is going great. The speaker is high energy, knowledgeable, loud enough (thank you!), speaks slowly enough, and even involves the audience.  It’s clear that significant time went into rehearsing the talk.

Then there’s the slide presentation. On its own, it’s not bad – it’s really not. It’s got a strong title slide and an interesting hook. There are pictures to bring ideas to life. The font is big enough. There’s plenty of white space. Someone spent a lot of time on it.

But as a whole, the speech lacks effectiveness. It misses the mark. As talented and lively as the speaker is, there’s a disconnect.  I’m left in the audience thinking, “He was so close! She had it in the bag!” And I feel conflicted. Because I want them to win. I want them to nail this talk. It’s like letting up at the end of a 5K race because you’re sure you’re ahead – only to be beaten by a nanosecond. So close, yet so far.

How does this happen?

Oftentimes, the disconnect is in how the speaker uses the slides.  In these cases, the slides –although well-designed – don’t help the speaker, they hurt.  Remember: slides are your aid. By definition, a visual aid is “an item of illustrative matter (like a slide) designed to supplement written or spoken information so that it can be understood more easily.” They’re your helper.

Here’s a “so close, yet so far” example.

I’m watching a talented speaker pitch. I’m hooked by the introduction. Then, in the middle of a slide, there’s an image (a quote, a graph with numbers, etc). Something designed to help the speaker’s argument. The image is simple, the quote is brief. I’m thinking, “This is great!”

But when the speaker arrives at the slide, he summarizes the image, but didn’t read or explain it. He speeds on to the other pieces of the slide, leaving the image in the dust. Before I can blink, he’s on to the next slide. The pattern continues. Put up a nice slide, talk to the audience about it (sort of), move on. What should I do? Listen to him (he sounds smart), or read the slide (it looks nice!)?  I begin to feel lost, even a little shortchanged. I want to take it all in, but I can’t.

It’s rare, but sometimes it is acceptable to read a slide. A direct quote is one of those times. If it’s important to your argument, by all means read it. Call attention to the slide for your audience. “So let’s have a look at this quote: [Proceed to read quote, then comment on it]. The quote highlights XYZ point, and helps us understand ABC.”

Note: It is impossible for your audience to simultaneously read what’s on the slide AND listen to you talk about another point. When this occurs, you’ve lost double. Your hard work as a speaker has been lost. Your hard work on the slide design has been lost. If this happens repeatedly, the audience is lost.

Instead, build your slides purposefully. Simply. Strategically. It’s true that you should not use your slides as a crutch, looking at them constantly and reading from them. That’s just lack of preparation.

But you also shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist. You can and should refer to them – they’re your aid! Let them help you. They can bolster your presentation’s effectiveness and leave you with that “Wow, I nailed it!” high – the feeling all speakers aim for when they take the stage.

Cindy Skalicky is passionate about developing effective messages. A public speaking coach and branding consultant, she is the owner of On Point Communications, LLC.  Learn more at www.onpoint-communications.com or contact Cindy at: info@onpoint-communications.com


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