This is a guest post by Shoots Veis, P.E.
Engineers use a variety of tools to complete their daily tasks. The list may include a calculator, a computer with the right software, and a book of engineering standards. These tools support the practice of engineering and make for a more productive engineer. They assist the engineer, but they do not replace the practice of engineering.
The same principle applies to an effective presentation. Visual aids, including the set of slides that are shown during the speech, should be a tool to assist with communication, not a crutch for the speaker to lean on because they didn’t prepare. Too many speakers believe creating a slide deck is all there is to public speaking. Instead of properly preparing and delivering a good speech, they rely on poorly designed visual aids to do the work for them.
The biggest downside to using presentation software to create visual aids is that it becomes easy to avoid the hard work of a good presentation. Instead, speakers throw some slides together using the default settings in the software and that is the beginning – and end – of their preparation. Too many people seem to think, that once they create a slide deck presentation, all they have to do is read from those slides and their presentations will be great.
To enrich your public speaking, you need to improve the slides used during a presentation. Presentation slides fall into three categories. The first is the document slide and it contains almost as many words as a one-page document. The second is a teleprompter slide and it is a bulleted list that prompts the speaker about what they need to say next. The final type of slide is the visual aid and it is a tool that assists with the presentation.
We have all suffered through presentations using document slides and it is painful. The slide is covered from top to bottom with words. Document slide presentations usually come with the added punishment of the presenter reading them to the audience. This happens because they are unprepared to do anything else. If you are going to read your slides to the audience, please just hand them a copy of the document and let them read. They can read faster than you can talk and it will avoid a painful experience for everyone involved.
Teleprompter slides make for a better presentation, but they are a tool for the speaker, not for the audience. The audience will want to read the lists and they will focus their attention on them for the short amount of time it takes to read the bullet points. However, they will not increase communication with the audience. Teleprompter slides usually result from a presenter that knows a topic well and uses the default software settings to create their slide deck. They use the slides to prompt them to move from one topic to the next throughout the presentation. The speaker adds additional information to the presentation that is not written on the slide.
The visual aid slide is designed with the audience in mind. They combine graphics with few words. The fewer the words, the better, with no words being the best. The graphic should support the idea the speaker is trying to make at that point in time. If there isn’t a graphic that corresponds to that portion of the presentation, try to be a little creative in coming up with something that will work. If you really cannot find a graphic, consider a blank slide. It is easy to insert a blank slide into the deck, and most presentation softwares have shortcut keys that allow you to turn the screen black or white with a push of a button. (In PowerPoint, pushing the “B” key on the keyboard will put up a black screen and pushing the “W” key will put up a white screen. Pushing either key again, or the Esc key will return to the slide that was up when you pushed the key.)
In order to become an effective public speaker, you can’t avoid preparing for the speech. Visual aids are an excellent way to enhance communication with the audience. Well-designed visual aids will help your presentation stand out.
About Shoots Veis:
Shoots Veis, P.E. is the author of Public Speaking for Engineers: Communicating Effectively with Clients, the Public, and Local Government. He is a Senior Project Manager focusing on municipal engineering assignments involving water and wastewater systems, land development, permitting, and project management. He served for five years as an elected member of the Billings, MT city council.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success