On your path to becoming a speaker, you overcome a lot of hurdles. You find your niche, you market yourself, you land a few local gigs, and then your first big keynote. You’ve finally “made it” in your industry and you’ll be speaking to thousands at a conference. During your last check-in with the event planner, they ask: “can you send your slides to our A/V guy before the talk?” You freeze. Nobody ever taught you how to create effective speaking powerpoint presentations! Will the same powerpoint template you used for that final project in high school suffice?
While that may not be exactly how this scenario plays out for you, at some point, probably early on in your speaking career, the question will arise. How do you create effective speaking PowerPoint presentations? Do they really matter? Can you just copy some sentences from your talk onto slides and call it a day?
We get questions about this a lot, and we’re here to help. We’ve covered the topic of speaking PowerPoint presentations a few times on the TSL podcast, specifically on episodes 190–191 and 262. Today, we’ll go over when and why you should use slides (and if you really should)! Then we’ll cover some of the essential strategies for creating effective slides to go with your talk.
Do you really need slides?
A lot of aspiring speakers over-emphasize the role PowerPoint plays in their speaking engagements. Before we get into how to create your slides, let’s get one fundamental principle out of the way.
You can’t rely on your PowerPoint.
Slides are an enhancement, not a replacement for good content or your presence onstage. If your talk can’t stand on its own, even the most beautifully formatted PowerPoint can’t cover up for you. You should always be able to give your talk just as compellingly without a slideshow, video, photos, etc. Practice and hone your talk first, then create slides to go with it.
Preparedness is absolutely essential to the art of speaking, and even the best PowerPoint cannot cover for your unpreparedness. Slides exist to help the audience, not as a reminder for you. If you’re trying to make up for poor speaking skills with a fancy slide deck, that time is better spent working on your content and on-stage presentation. The order of importance is content first, delivery next, and only then your PowerPoint.
After all, you could be that unlucky speaker who walks on stage just before a power outage happens. Or the event planning intern loses your flash drive. Or the battery on the mac connected to the projector dies. Sure, those are all worst case scenarios. But anybody who’s been around in the conference space for a while will tell you they do happen. Unfortunately, many speakers treat their PowerPoint as a crutch, and fumble around if something goes wrong on the technical end. The ability to deliver your talk seamlessly without slides in such a situation will set you apart and endear you to event planners and audience members alike.
OK, so a PowerPoint isn’t absolutely essential. But when slides do enhance, they can be powerful! Some examples of their use include:
- Adding structure e.g. showing when you’re moving onto a new topic or reviewing points you’ve already made.
- Orienting your audience toward your message by highlighting key words or points that they should listen for.
- Presenting data, statistics, and research conclusions, especially if your field has a commonly used “visual shorthand”.
Your PowerPoint should work alongside your storytelling to keep your audience engaged and to the point. In our next section, we will dig deeper into how you can make your slides as effective and impactful as possible.
Creating effective content in speaking PowerPoint Presentations
You should approach your speaking PowerPoint with an attitude of intentionality and minimalism. The number of slides is irrelevant–it’s how you present information on them that counts. Craft your words beautifully, and it will be easy to create slides alongside them.
When it comes to text on the screen, less is almost always more. Avoid redundancy–those blocks of text that you are going to say out loud anyway can go. Use big, readable fonts in a high-contrast color. Often, a single word to keep the audience on track is more compelling than a long block quote that would only distract them.
Minimalism doesn’t mean you should do away with images, but you must use them wisely! Two of the best uses for images are as an illustration or a visualization of a step-by-step process. Only images of the highest quality belong in your presentation, so ditch the grainy screenshots and dimly-lit photos. Free resources like Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash will provide you with great high-res stock images. For charts and diagrams, TSL friend Nancy Duarte offers a free PowerPoint-ready tool called Diagrammer. You can hear Nancy’s advice for slides and storytelling on Episode 262 of the Speaker Lab Podcast.
As we’ve mentioned before, reminding people that you are a professional speaker is essential to building your network and brand recognition. Don’t underestimate the possibilities your slides offer for self-promotion! Do you offer additional services such as courses or coaching? Integrate stories of past client work with images alongside. Have you spoken for audiences similar to those that your listeners are part of? Include a picture from one of those events. Here’s one way to gain fans and followers with your speaking PowerPoint that you can implement anytime: at the end of your talk, display your social media handle or a QR code that leads to an email subscriber form. If you give away a free resource to email subscribers (as you should), this is a great chance to mention it.
You shouldn’t create an entirely new PowerPoint every time you speak. Once you develop a signature talk, develop an easily adaptable PowerPoint template to go along with it. Use the same color scheme, fonts, and voice as your website and other business materials (more tips here for developing your speaker brand).
It’s also in your own brand’s interest to design your slides with the client in mind. If there is a color, logo, or hashtag that unites your PowerPoint to an overarching event theme, it will be a big hit with audience and planners alike. Consider asking your point of contact if there’s a theme you should be aware of ahead of time. Integrating the theme into your template in small or subtle ways will take no time at all–and neither will your content if you follow our principles of intentionality and minimalism! Learn more about making the most of minimalist slides on Episode 190 of our podcast.
Presenting your speaking PowerPoint: technical tips
Once you’ve nailed down your content, you should run through your speech alongside your slides at least once. Knowing how to create effective speaking PowerPoint presentations is half the battle; presenting them onstage presents its own set of challenges. Here are some tips for jumping through technical hoops and making sure nothing in your control goes wrong.
When it comes to the template we mentioned in the previous section, you’ll have the option of creating it in a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. Always ask your client if they know the projector dimensions, but 4:3 is the safest by default. It’s far better to have smaller slides centered on a widescreen projector than unexpected cropping! Once you have the time, creating two templates will allow you to make the most of widescreen projectors when they are available.
If music or video is an absolutely essential part of your message, it can totally have a place in your PowerPoint. But if it’s not essential, leave it out! The A/V team will be relieved and it’s one less thing that can go wrong. If you must include animations, videos, music, etc., do so in the way that creates the least friction by requiring the least technical support. Have a game plan for smoothly moving on if it doesn’t work. If you’ve focused properly on crafting your talk, it will still have the same impact.
Here’s one tip we can’t stress enough: always bring backup. Even if you sent your slides to the client a week ago, bring a flash drive. If you’re supposed to project from your own device, send the file to the client or upload it to google slides just in case. And this tip doesn’t just apply to your PowerPoint! Put together a little tech bag stocked with cables, clickers, microphones, adaptors, and chargers. Many speakers even bring an ethernet cord.
Preparedness is key when it comes to effectively presenting your speaking PowerPoint. Ask about deadlines and technical requirements well in advance. At the same time, you can’t prepare for every scenario, so being easy to work with is equally important. If you can roll with the punches, event planners and A/V teams alike will look forward to seeing your name on the program. Those good relationships are essential to the referrals that will ensure you future gigs down the road.
If you’re looking for more details of technical success with your speaking PowerPoints, head over to episode 191 of the TSL podcast.
Some speakers, like TSL founder Grant Baldwin or famous keynoter Simon Sinek avoid using slides whenever possible.
Others, like our friend Melanie Deziel, love creating effective speaking PowerPoints that help maximize their message.
Wherever you fall on the question of slides, it’s important to use them intentionally and without overwhelming the audience. While every speaker will have their own characteristic style, these tips should set you well on your way to creating amazing speaking slides!