How Slides Can Help or Ruin Your Presentation


Your story, not your slides, are what should create the dominant images in the minds of the audience.

Some people think that you’re not doing a true webinar, or that somehow you’re less advanced or sophisticated if you’re not showing slides or other visuals during your presentation.

Well let’s nix that myth right now. The reality is that slides and visuals are the least important part of your presentation.

If you think about the history of storytelling, it’s a human trait that goes back to the dawn of humanity, at least to the dawn of spoken language.

Our ancestors spent hours and hours of time sitting around campfires, telling each other stories. They used stories to pass knowledge on from one generation to the next about changing seasons, to teach hunting and gathering skills, and to understand the danger and horror of war.

They told stories to have an understanding of where they came from before they were born and what happened after they died. And sometimes, stories were there just for entertainment.

And guess what? When it was dark out on the savannah, there wasn’t anyplace for our ancestors to plug in their laptops. So they had to get by without their beautiful slides and PowerPoint presentations. And yet the stories got told just the same: life enriching, wonderful and entertaining stories. Vivid stories, full of action and life.

So what’s the lesson here? The lesson is that when people hear stories, they are also seeing them. It’s just that most of the pictures of what’s happening in a story are happening in the minds of each individual audience member.

But it’s your spoken words that cause that imagery. And those spoken words are what really matter, and they matter way, way more than the visuals you also present.

In fact, the way many people use slides and visuals, it actually takes away from their presentations, because the audience starts focusing on their slides instead of focusing on their message.

That’s not to say that slides don’t matter, or that they can’t be used effectively. It’s just that the words you say, and the stories you tell, should be 95% of your preparation and effort. Slides take you the final 5%.

If you still don’t believe me, try this experiment: the next time a 3 or 4 year-old asks you to read her a story, just hand her a book and tell her to look at the illustrations instead. See what kind of reaction you get.


Why am I de-emphasizing using slides in your presentations?  Because I want you to be successful. You only have a limited amount of time to prepare your teleseminars and webinars, and sometimes people get hung up on what they’re going to show to people instead of what they’re going to say to people.

Here’s another example*:

Imagine you’re attending a lecture on the Disappearing Rainforests. Imagine that you’re listening to me make my case, and I begin to throw these facts on the table:

  • Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface; now they cover a mere 6%
  • One hectare (the equivalent of 2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants
  • As a result, we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day. That equates to 50,000 species a year.

And I complement those facts with this slide, showing one bullet point at a time:


Now, that’s a pretty devastating argument. After seeing those facts, it’s hard to not see the presenter’s point here that something drastic must be done to stop these trends.

But how does that wall of text make you feel?

Now imagine I’m telling you the same story, and maybe even sharing some of the same facts along the way, but instead of a wall of text, I show you this instead:


See the difference?

FEEL the difference?

In one fell swoop, you get it.

That’s the power of using slides well…they should spur the audience’s imagination with cues that touch on their emotions.

So that’s the big lesson for today: whenever you can, use big, full images in your slides, and keep the text to a minimum, or even zero. The power of words for your events is in your spoken words, not in the text that appears on your slides.

And when you do use text, try to show no more than 5 or 6 words per slide, maximum, just as touch point reminders for your audience.

Like our ancestors, tell your story. Use slides to help spur the imagination of your audience. Don’t make your audience try to read through and digest complicated text on your slides at the same time.

And by the way: when you do feel the need to share statistics like the bullet points I just showed you, the better way to do that is in a PDF handout that the audience downloads, perhaps as pre-reading material.

* To give credit where credit is due: I’m pretty sure I picked up this rainforest example from an article on Seth Godin’s blog years ago.

8 comments for “How Slides Can Help or Ruin Your Presentation

  1. April 8, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Great reminders and excellent example that clarifies your point very well. Thank you.

    • April 9, 2016 at 8:14 am

      Thanks for the read Yvonne!

  2. April 8, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Excellent points and perfect timing as I get ready to host a webinar next week! Thanks

    • April 9, 2016 at 8:14 am

      Cool. Hope it goes well!

  3. April 8, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    A great reinforcement for me changing from doing webinars for 2 years and switched to doing teleseminars this year. I love doing teleseminars and telling my story. It saves me so much time to not have to prepare slides that took hours for me to complete.

    • April 9, 2016 at 8:33 am

      Hi Joyce: We’ve had a number of customers tell us this. Less time worrying about slides is more time you can spend on your message. An in-between concept is a “minimalist” approach to slides, consisting of anywhere from 2 to 5 slides in the deck. For example, a title slide displayed for the duration of the presentation followed by a “take action” slide when you want to present an offer or direct the audience towards next steps.

  4. April 9, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Great points Joel – it’s all about evoking feelings and emotions with visuals!!

  5. April 11, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Hey Joel, we all hate being trapped in a conference room watching as the presenter proudly reads exactly what is on the slide adding no additional thoughts. Your 1st slide I read but your 2nd slide I felt. It’s still true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Point well made. Thanks.

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