Unless you’ve had extensive presentation training or dived into our presentation tips on how to create compelling and succinct slides, you’ve most likely fallen into the trap of slide stuffing at some point in your career. It’s not your fault. You’re the product of a legacy story that begins with the lowly overhead projector.

In true Missing Link style, we’re going to dive into the story of the overhead projector and why this once revolutionary invention is your absolute presentation Achilles heal today. Let’s slay this legacy thinking!

Stuff it like it’s Hawt! Stuff it like it’s NOT!

The numero uno mistake most presenters make – slide stuffing. Let’s paint the picture. You finally have your moment at your company’s annual conference. You’ve been asked to present and talk about your department’s latest innovations, KPIs and goals. People are listening. Your colleagues are staring at you. They’re waiting for you to wow them. You have so much to convey; so many details to explain, so many stats to show them.

Ultimately, you end up stuffing your slides with paragraphs of information, more charts and graphs than the report of the lunar landing and smear it with all the minute details you think matters. Congratulations, your audience is officially bored. Don’t get me wrong, graphs and data are an unavoidable element of certain presentations and needed for certain divisions, that doesn’t mean that they need to be wedged in to cover every white space on your slide.

Why do we do this? Why is our gut instinct to stuff our presentations with as much information as possible? To understand that, we need to take a little historical trip, back to the classroom.

Edmond Becquerel

Back in the good ole days, the overhead projector was the ultimate presentation tool

French physicist Edmond Becquerel created the first known overhead projector in 1853. Since then the concept passed through a few hands across the Atlantic being reimagined for different purposes. Before the projector found its way into classrooms and offices as a way to present information, it had already been used as a training mechanism in the second world war and as a scorekeeper in bowling alleys.

It was used as a tool to convey as much information as possible because the transparency slides you wrote on were eye-wateringly expensive. You couldn’t afford to tell your story slowly slide-by-slide.

When Microsoft finally digitalized the process, they kept the same legacy way of thinking. Now you could make as many slides as you want and STILL stuff them with as much information as possible. The financial constraint was gone but we still present like it’s 1955.

How to unshackle yourself from the overhead projector legacy

Here are three simple presentation tips you can take right now to help free yourself from the “projector legacy”.

1. One idea per slide.

How do you eat an Elephant – One bite at a time. You may have complex ideas to convey and you can talk through them but if you want the information to be visually digestible, you need to portray those ideas one slide at a time.

However, PowerPoint has this terrible habit of dictating to you how it thinks you should present by immediately serving up two blocks; one with bullet points already suggested no less! That’s unhelpful because it’s suggesting you cram more than one idea per slide.

Delete those blocks. 

By deleting PowerPoint’s suggested blocks, you’re left with a fresh, clean white piece of screen. One open canvas to land one idea clearly for your audience. Can you feel your oxygen levels increasing already? Isn’t that freeing!

2. Think Like a billboard

Now that you’re staring at your white, blank piece of screen, it can get a little overwhelming at first. That’s because you have a million points you want to make and they’re all shouting at you for their spot on this slide. So which one to choose? You need to separate your wheat from the chaff.

To do that you need to keep one philosophy in mind – The victory condition. Put simply, it’s the winning point you want to make; it’s the punchline. Another way of shifting your mindset to achieve this is by thinking of each slide as a billboard. Because a billboard will only ever advertise the victory, the winning message.

For example, if the point of your slide is to show everyone that your department outperformed the market by 150%, you don’t show a bar graph displaying every dataset or all the other competitors in the market. Instead, you show only your victory condition – that you outperformed them. To illustrate, you could show a giant “150%” and a picture that denotes the market you’re speaking of. This doesn’t mean graphs have no place, it just means the data in them should reflect your victory condition.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Eliminate Data

Data often acts as contextual information that slowly gets to the punchline. Context is good but it can bore an audience in its visual presentation. Your visual narrative should be used to drive the punchline home while you as the speaker should provide the contextual build-up to your punchline. This requires being able to kill the unnecessary data and refocus your attention on only the data that provides a conclusion. The data doesn’t lie but it also doesn’t have to bore people to tears.

WOAH, Easy now tiger…

Don’t go crazy now cutting back all the information you actually need to show. Look at the information you need to cover and see what can be visually represented and what can be explained verbally, the two should work together.

But Wait! There are more presentation tips to be had…

Shifting your mindset when you’re looking to level up your presentation skills doesn’t end here. It just so happens that we’ve built online and in-person masterclasses around this very presentation tips. And if you and your team want to continue stretching the boundaries of awesomeness, I think you could benefit from one of our masterclasses.

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