It’s one of the most common mistakes people make when presenting in front of an audience: reading directly from their slides.
It’s certainly understandable why it’s done.
Maybe you’re uncomfortable with public speaking and reading from your slides makes it feel less scary. Or maybe you didn’t have much time to prepare for your presentation and are forced to rely on the slides to guide you. Or maybe you weren’t able to practice developing stage presence, leading you to just stand on stage and look at your slides. Or maybe you don’t know how to properly craft notes so that you can talk from them, rather than reading them word-for-word.
Whatever the reason, it’s an incredibly common practice that has the unfortunate side effect of making presentations far less impactful.
The simple reality is that when it comes to your presentation, you should be the star of the show, not your slides.
But why exactly is reading from slides such a problem? And if it is a problem, how do you fix it?
The Problem Of Reading From Slides
If you’ve ever sat through a presentation where a person read their slides word-for-word (which is incredibly common), then you know that it’s the absolute worst way to connect with an audience.
Reading from your slides communicates one or more of these things to your audience:
You didn’t prepare in advance – If you had sufficiently prepared in advance, you wouldn’t need to depend on your slides. You would know your material well enough to not use your slides as a crutch.
You may not actually know your subject very well – Experts on a subject are able to talk freely without having to constantly check their notes. When you cling to your slides like a lifeboat, it reveals that you may not know your subject all that well.
You don’t respect the audience – Reading from your slides reveals a lack of preparation, which is evidence that you don’t care all that much about your audience. If you truly care about your audience, you will be thoroughly prepared to deliver your presentation.
You don’t really want to be presenting this material – It’s hard to sound enthusiastic and passionate when you’re reading word-for-word. A lack of passion often makes it seem like you’d rather not be doing your presentation.
So what’s the solution? How can you move away from reading directly from your slides?
How To Present The Right Way
There are a number of specific tactics you can employ that will help you present in a moving, interesting manner without relying on your slides.
Use Fewer Words On Your Slides – Avoid Sentences
If you’re presenting in front of a group, or even just to one person, never put full sentences on your slides. Use bullet points that are less than one line long. Your job as the speaker is to expound on and emphasize these bullet points.
Of course, if you’re sending along a document to support your presentation, it will need to stand on its own and be readable. And if you plan on leaving your presentation behind, make sure to include your notes as well so that the audience can fully understand every point you made.
But when it comes to the slides themselves, don’t use complete sentences
Prepare Proper Notes
When preparing your notes, only put the most salient points bullet points in them. We’re talking about the most impactful points that will resonate deeply with the audience. Like your slides, these points should not be full sentences, only bullet points. If you put full sentences in your notes (like you’re writing a manuscript) then you’ll be strongly tempted to read your notes word-for-word.
For each bullet point in your notes, use word cues that trigger a thought in your head that will help you remember what to talk about.
Your goal is to sound like you know what you’re talking about without needing to read your notes word-for-word.
Most people don’t realize when they’re using their notes as a crutch. One way to tell if you are is to record yourself practicing your speech and then watch the video. You’ll be able to tell if you’re relying too heavily on your notes.
No Need To Memorize
Truthfully, most people can’t memorize an entire presentation. It’s simply takes too much work. The good news is that you don’t need to memorize everything.
If you’re giving a larger, long presentation, you can usually ask for a downstage monitor with your slides on the screen. Work with the event coordinator to make sure that all your slides work correctly and that you can control them.
If you’re giving a smaller presentation, you can carry note cards. Notes are fine to use in a presentation as long as you’re not standing behind a podium or reading your notes word-for-word.
When giving your presentation, consistently look at your audience. Make eye contact with different members of the audience. This makes your presentation seem much more natural and makes you seem comfortable. When you’re comfortable, the audience will engage with you much more. If you’re not comfortable, the audience will definitely be able to tell. You want to radiate confidence when you give your presentation.
Use Supporting Imagery
Wherever possible, include high-quality images that support your presentation. Look for images that truly support the story you’re telling and create non-cliche metaphors. Don’t use stock photos of posed people in a staged office setting.
If you can, also look for opportunities to use motion and custom graphics throughout your presentation.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Finally, consistently practice your presentation in the days before you give it. We recommend practicing 10 minutes per day.
Start by only practicing the vocal portion of your presentation, using only “salient point” notes only (i.e. notes featuring only the most important points). Once you’re comfortable with this, practice the specifics with your slides. Then move on to stage presence and working on making eye contact with the audience.
Break down your presentation into these different elements and focus on the areas where you’re weakest.
Present With Confidence
The good news is that you can learn to give powerful, compelling presentations. Yes, it takes time and effort to learn to give a presentation without relying on your slides. But it’s well worth it. Your presentations will be ten times more effective if the slides support your presentation instead of being the focus of the presentation.
Now, go forth and present with confidence.