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  • Writer's pictureBrett Ommen

Slide Decks: How to make them effective

One question we often get at Vocable is what to do about the slide decks that have become a ubiquitous part of most professional presentations.


These slide decks tend to be blamed for a rise in corporate meeting inefficiency. They split the audience’s attention across two different modes of communicating (the screen and the speaker), and we want the bulk of that attention to be on the speaker. Slide decks have also quickly evolved into a deliverable document which is expected to serve as a take-home replica of the presentation. Of course though, what a reader of the take-home deck needs is different than what is needed in the meeting itself, and both those needs might differ from the speaker’s own.


How do we navigate this?


You can correct some inefficiencies by designing your slide presentations with these different audiences in mind. Edit your comprehensive take-home presentation (a “read” deck) into a supportive set of components for the presentation (a “delivery” deck). This process addresses the tension between what a reader needs in order to understand your presentation and what a listener needs in order to buy-in to it.


Typically, this advice results in taking out slides to reduce a deck’s “footprint” within the presentation. That’s certainly one way to shift from a “read” to a “delivery” deck, but we still need to consider how you, as a presenter, work with the slides, and how the slides work for the audience.


In an ideal world, a “delivery” deck isn’t just a “read” deck with some slides removed. Instead, an expert presenter considers how the deck needs to interface with its audience differently in the room, or via video-call, or as a print-out for the folks who couldn’t make the meeting. What these audiences expect and what the presenter needs will require different information and layouts.


Research shows that meaningful reflection on communication processes makes a real difference in communication effectiveness, whereas top-down policies or style-guides for slide presentations (things like slide limits or pre-approved templates) typically do little to alleviate meeting inefficiency. In other words, a communication culture that focuses on clear goals and audience needs is more effective than a list of rules about slide composition. How do you achieve this?


The first and easiest change you can make is to be explicit in determining the purpose of your slides. Ask yourself what your goals are for the presentation, what the audience needs in order to support and achieve those goals, and how the slides will serve those purposes. This will lead to slide decks that are successful in the meeting room and beyond.

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