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The Value of Good Slides (or how I justify my obsession with PowerPoint)


By Tom Nixon

I often get a prolonged silence when at various social events I recite my response to “What do you do?”

My reply: “I create visuals for presenters, a.k.a. PowerPoint.” is enough to stop a conversation right there. If I am at a party, that usually signals the time for more liquor or perhaps a trip to the rest room.

I have long given up the need to defend my craft or to explain that what I do is not the usual image of corporate PowerPoint but rather a way of coupling an impactful visual with equally powerful words from the presenter. I see it as an opportunity to multiply the effect and the memory of a live presentation. But is that just so much talk or are there really benefits to having slides projected behind you when you stand and deliver?

From my experience there are concrete benefits and I will list a few here:

  1. The right visual and the right words dramatically improve the power of your message and the short- and long-term recall. There have been legions of behavioral studies that establish this link. A few words plus an image works. The words can tell the story and the image adds a visual clue that the mind can use to add meaning to the concept. My own experience forces me to concede that this effect requires the right words and the right images. It is not an automatic – they must complement each other. And an endless parade of images will certainly dull the effect of that one key concept you want to burn into your audience’s collective memories.
  2. Visuals can provide a background for the presenter to perform before. They can be a stage providing general reminders of what is being discussed. There may not be a need to be specific. Let your words elaborate and let the visuals add to an overall effect.
  3. Top quality graphics can certainly establish the professional caliber of the presenter. They will set you apart from more amateurish or unprepared presenters. Additionally, like a well-tailored suit, well-designed slides speak to your attention to excellence without having to actually announce it.
  4. Let’s not forget the most basic of functions: to illustrate a concept, process, physical arrangement or any other complex idea. Sometimes a picture is worth that thousand words when you can show that this goes here and then that goes there.
  5. Finally, slides can be a confidence-boosting set of subtle cues that can keep a presenter on track and remind him or her of the things that must be covered in their proper order. The danger here is, of course, that we will put too much on the slides to remind us of what to say and then – gasp – turn and read it, word for word, to our audience. The visuals should cue us without being obvious and while still bringing useful information to the audience.

There, run for a drink if you have had too much justification for my career in PowerPoint. When we meet we can discuss the weather.

Tom Nixon has over 3 decades of experience assisting clients with meaningful business communications. Contact Tom to see how he can work with your business leaders and subject matter experts to create stunning visual presentations (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc.) and enhance their on-stage delivery.