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Develop your presentation media: The slide deck

Don't default to PowerPoint. Understand why a slide deck exists and how it can enhance your public speaking and presentation style.

6 min read


Develop your presentation media: The slide deck


In a previous post for SmartBrief, I introduced four simple steps for creating a powerhouse presentation. This post goes deeper on the third of the four steps to discuss the importance of developing slides that enhance the connection you have with your audience and their understanding of your core message. Read the whole series.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “presentation”? If you’re like many business leaders, it’s probably “PowerPoint.”

The essential but rarely asked question is, “Would my presentation benefit from any type of audio-visual support?” While there are other audiovisual options, PowerPoint has become more than a business standard — it is often an expectation.

In fact, “PowerPoint” has become synonymous with “presentation,” to the point where the length of a talk is commonly measured by the number of slides shown. This thinking can lead us to mistakenly put the cart before the horse – or, in this case, the slide deck before the message.

What is the purpose of a slide deck?

When PowerPoint is your focus, it’s easy to forget the real purpose of your presentation: to connect with your audience in order to achieve your goal.

As with other AV support, the purpose of the slide deck is to support your message by aiding audience understanding. Slides should capture the essence of what you’re saying and provide the audience insight, allowing you to communicate more in less time.

Too often the slide deck becomes a de facto teleprompter or an all-inclusive list of everything the speaker knows on the subject. This approach results in text-heavy slides that, when projected onto a screen, have your audience so busy reading that they don’t listen to anything you say. If your content can be distributed and clearly understood without you (the presenter), you’ve created a document, not a visual aid.

Not sure if you’re using PowerPoint appropriately? Check for these signs you’re relying too heavily on your slides:

  • You can’t deliver the presentation without the slide deck
  • Your presentation consists of reading aloud what’s on your slides
  • You look at the computer screen to read the slides, and you forget to look at the audience to connect and see listeners’ reactions

Why do people keep plodding down the typical, tedious PowerPoint path?

  • “That’s the way I’ve always done it!”
  • “They’re only giving me 15 minutes and I’ve got a lot to say.”
  • “People will need all this information when they get back to their offices.”

(Be honest, how often do you go back to a slide deck for reference? Others probably don’t either.)

As I mentioned earlier, slideware can be a useful tool to help you think through your presentation — what to say and how to say it. But getting your thoughts down is just the first step. Can you imagine sending a rough draft of your quarterly report to your board of directors, thinking it’s done?

Now it’s time to step back and ask those same questions you asked before:

  • What does your audience absolutely need to know?
  • How do you talk about it in a way that makes sense to them?

Remember your core message and the organizational framework, and use a glance-and-grab strategy to quickly ground your audience so they can turn their attention to you.

The glance-and-grab strategy

Driving down the road, you check your rearview mirror. How long do you look? A second? Less? In an instant, you’re probably doing several things, from seeing if you’re being tailgated to making sure you won’t get a speeding ticket. The truth is, those brief moments can involve important, even critical decisions.

Now apply that same thinking to your slide deck. Imagine you only have seconds to help your audience make a critical decision. What information will they need? What’s the best way to communicate it? Should you use words? Pictures? A combination of the two?

Whatever you choose, make sure your listeners can easily glance at your media, grab the key information, and turn their attention to what you are saying.

RSVP principles

To implement the glance-and-grab strategy, apply the RSVP principles: Relevant, Subordinate, Visible and Pictorial.

  • Relevant. Ensure that each slide is relevant to what you’re saying as you are saying it. The purpose of each slide should be obvious and necessary. Not relevant? Cut it out. There is no rule that says everything you say needs to be captured on a slide!
  • Subordinate. Your slides are subordinate to you as the speaker. Remember, you are the headline act. If you find yourself saying, “I know you can’t read this, but … ” or “I know there is too much on this slide, but …” your slide is distracting rather than engaging listeners. Your words — not your slides – should carry the show.
  • Visible. For in-person presentations, the rule of thumb is a minimum of 30-point font. For virtual presentations, make sure your slides are visible and readable on all types of devices (laptops, tablets and phones). Check out how much pinching or spreading is required to view your visuals on a phone or tablet.
  • Pictorial. To aid listener comprehension, make sure your slides are more visual than textual. Avoid paragraphs or long sentences. And if you can make the same point with a picture, use a picture. Reduce visual “noise” by avoiding bedazzled graphics and animations or poorly applied transitions.

When you use the RSVP principles, your listeners can easily glance at your media, grab the key information, and turn their attention to what you are saying.

Don’t let your slide deck become the focus of your next presentation. Step out from behind the PowerPoint: Focus on your audience, craft a compelling message, and captivate your listeners with an engaging delivery. You are sure to leave a lasting impression that achieves results!

Intrigued? You’ll want to read my next post in this series to learn why your audience would rather experience connection than perfection. We’ll look at forging that connection through purposeful gestures, intentional movement, and the four P’s of vocal expressiveness.


Stephanie Scotti coaches leaders and their teams for every type of presentation, from Fortune 500 CEO keynotes to TED Talks to multimillion-dollar pitches. Find her bestselling book “Talk on Water: Attaining the Mindset for Powerhouse Presentations” at Professionally Speaking Consulting.

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