When you tell a story during a presentation,
which slide is on the screen as you tell it?
The truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with slide presentations. Microsoft launched Power Point in 1990, almost 26 years ago. The business world has changed dramatically as a result of this tool, for better and for worse. As speakers, we’ve been conditioned to have some tidbit of information “up” for every moment we talk. Why? It’s simple. 1) This reduces the already intense nervousness we feel; slides give the audience something else to watch. 2) With slides already prepared, we tell ourselves we don’t have to practice as much (when of course, we most certainly do).
But what should speakers do when they break up the talk to tell a story? What should be on the screen then? Many speakers simply leave up the last slide they’ve discussed. Or maybe they’ll insert a photo during their story. That can work, but it still gives audience members permission to disengage from the speaker and check their cell phones. I’d like to challenge the status quo. This will require some courage from the speaker.
When I coach clients, we spend a significant amount of time working on how their stories will sound and where they should be placed. Well-developed stories are especially critical for keynotes, a situation that calls for stories to be longer and more in-depth. But all talks need stories, and we can all improve our ability to tell them. Typically, I’m digging into storytelling techniques by the 2nd coaching meeting, which continues into the 3rd and 4th sessions. Most clients have prepared slides for their talk, so the question inevitably comes up: “Which slide will be up during your story?” There’s usually a pause, and then we brainstorm.
More often than not, I recommend nothing. That is, if you’re about to tell an important story -one that lasts more than 3 minutes – put up a blank slide. Black or white is best, depending on the room you’re in and the lighting (a white slide if the room is well-lit, a black slide if the lights are out and you are well-lit).
A blank slide takes the focus off the screen and puts it back onto you, the presenter. Unnerving? Maybe. But the power of storytelling comes from the relationship that is built between the storyteller and the listening audience. That relationship is best established human to human, not screen to human. As audience members, we are so trained to look up at the screen from start to finish that we miss out on opportunities to get to know the human being in front of us. If you’re the speaker, remember to be a human being in front of us, not just the audio behind a fancy slide presentation. You control what the screen displays. If you want to get the most out of your story, use a blank slide. Then talk to your audience. Invite them in.
I know, a blank screen is risky. It’s hard to demand that all eyes in the room be on you. It definitely ups the ante because you have to know your material. You have to rehearse more than once. But the benefits far outweigh the costs. If you have an engaging story to share – be it in the form of a life lesson, personal triumph or valuable failure – give it your all. Be fully present to those in the room, and embrace the time it takes to tell it well. You will grow both personally and professionally.
As you conclude, offer a brief transitional sentence back into your next slide. Pick up your pointer and resume the talk. If presented well, you’ve earned some real credibility and trust from your audience.
And that makes your blank slide the most valuable slide in the deck.
Cindy Skalicky, M.A. is the owner of On Point Communications, LLC. She coaches speakers on storytelling techniques, speech writing, and overall content development. Master the Message. Contact Cindy at: email@example.com