Slides have always been a cop-out.
When you speak, you are the best visual. You have the power to sway an audience. It’s your conviction that moves people in the room to believe what you believe. Your audience can see in your face and your gestures, and hear in your voice whether you believe what you’re saying. They take their cue from you.
Slides disrupt that connection between speaker and audience. That’s why they have always been less than ideal. And they’re even more of a letdown in today’s virtual environment, where people crave the human touch and want to connect with you.
1. Slides were never that useful
Slides have always put speakers at a disadvantage. When speakers use visual aids, the audience naturally focuses on the slides, not the speaker. That’s because our eyes are more powerful than our ears. Seventy percent of our body’s sense receptors are in our eyes. So we seize upon what we can see, rather than on what the speaker is saying.
When slides take over, they can become an information dump, and the quality of the audience experience is greatly diminished.
2. They’re a plague in virtual communications
These days, many of the folks who host online meetings use tons of visual aids to communicate with their remote teams. But in this time of crisis and uncertainty, speakers need to reach out and connect with their audiences on a human level.
In webinars, Zoom meetings, and virtual events of all kinds, speakers often put visual aids front and center. For example, in Zoom events, we frequently see a speaker who’s sharing her screen in a small box in the upper corner of the Zoom screen—or in a small box somewhere else on the screen—and the slides take up the rest of the screen.
In some cases, the wording on the slides duplicates exactly what the speaker-in-the-box is saying. In other cases, the slides carry bullet points that the speaker-in-the-box is delivering. In both instances, the speaker is reduced in size on the screen, delivering words that the audience can read on their own.
When infographics are used—as they frequently are—the speaker is further sidelined. It seems that lots of people are spending lots of time designing infographics that engage the audience and cut out the speaker. Perhaps in online training this use of captivating visuals is necessary, but in a causal meeting or webinar it should be banned.
3. They undermine the speaker
The result? The speaker has no power to engage, let alone to persuade. How can a speaker project leadership when he or she has such a small part to play on the screen? Or when his or her words are on the screen for the audience to read?
A presentation is a time to step up to the role we have been given. That means leading people by talking directly to them, engaging with them, laughing with them, and letting them feel our presence. We sideline ourselves by letting this need for visuals to take over.
4. They’re boring
The audience, too, is at a huge disadvantage when visuals become front and center. We are inspired when a speaker has the confidence to look us in the eye and tell us what she believes. And for that to happen the speaker must be squarely in the center of the screen, at eye level, with enough visibility that facial expression and arm gestures show.
In the absence of that, the audience is left to look at the slides and fall into a state of boredom. No wonder everyone attending these virtual meetings seems to be getting “Zoom fatigue.” Who wants to listen to a speaker who essentially has left the room?
I have listened to a variety of virtual “events” over the past few months, and only one held my attention—a seminar conducted by Kristen Hadeed, as part of the Simon Sinek team. She engaged me because her speaking style was strong, committed, and warm. Instead of putting up visuals, she talked us through her series of points.
5. They distract from the real visual: You
The secret is to become the visual, instead of relying on slides. Set yourself up in a room with a clean background—a bookshelf is fine, but it shouldn’t look cluttered. Don’t have junk around you, and dress for the part: Make sure you look professional.
Then center the camera on yourself, choose good lighting, and practice what you’re going to say in advance so you don’t have to read your lines in a mechanical way. If you have a script, your eyes can go down to the page, but bring them up and look at your audience (or computer camera, anyway) at the end of each sentence.
Most of all, realize that your audience craves the interpersonal relationship that is made possible by your being present. Use warm body language, smile at the audience (even when you can’t see them), speak in an upbeat tone, and sit tall and keep your arms open, gesturing in the direction of your audience.
If you do these things, you will have a strong presence. Not only will you inspire your audience, but they will be left energized, not fatigued.