10 Presentation Tips: Tip No. 3 — NO SLIDEUMENTS (a Picture IS Worth 1,000 Words!)

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This is the third post in a 10-post series on tips for effective presentations. For an explanation as to why I’m adding this series to a data-oriented blog, see the intro to the first post in the series. To view other tips in the series, click here.

Tip No. 3: NO SLIDEUMENTS (a Picture IS Worth 1,000 Words!)

Garr Reynolds (aka, “Presentation Zen”) coined the term “slideument” for a presentation that really was a prose document delivered in slide format. These are both terrible and the most common form of presentation that exists in today’s workplace.

It’s perfectly understandable! You start by trying to get your thoughts down on paper, and PowerPoint provides a nice mechanism for doing that. You then pour through the outline you’ve created and tweak and tune and add until you have all of your points laid out. Then (and this is the disastrous next step):

You start adding images or diagrams to make the presentation “less text-heavy.”

Aiming for being less text-heavy is great…but there are two ways to go about that:

  • The Wrong Way: add non-text elements
  • The Right Way: remove text!

Now, if you’ve been doing your work with Tip No. 2, you’ll realize that one of the presentation killers is a text-heavy slide. Evenif the presenter doesn’t just read the bullet points off, you can’t read and listen at the same time, so, at best, you do a half-ass job at both! There’s cognitive research to back me up on this (and I’m going to promptly fail to reference any specifics, other than saying that I’m pretty sure John Medina covers this in Brain Rules).

Here’s the technique I use when I’ve got text-heavy slides:

  1. I cut all the text and paste it into the notes
  2. I read through the text and try to envision what one or two keywords most sum up what they’re saying
  3. I go to http://flickr.com/creativecommons and start searching (and I search hard – I don’t just grab the first image that seems remotely relevant; I use the “Interesting” option to sort the search results and I look for pictures that are evocative in their own right while aligning with the point I want to make).
  4. I make the image take up the entire slide (without distorting it – learn to use the “crop” functionality in PowerPoint, people!)
  5. Sometimes I then overlay the image with a single 1-8 word phrase (in a high-contrast color so it’s easily readable)

Now, the objection I hear when I lobby for this approach is often, “But this presentation is going to get sent around and reviewed! I’ve got to have all of my points written out so that it works as a standalone document without me presenting it!” Two points on that:

  • If you’re printing it to give to someone, print it with the notes displayed. Voila! Objection muted!
  • If there really is a lot of detail that is core to the content, fire up MS Word and write it up that way! Then, circulate the Word document and use the presentation only when you are actually presenting the material in person.

Having laid out the absolutes in this tip, I’ll now back off a little bit and note that this approach should be the goal…but you will certainly find cases for deviating from it here and there. Be leery, though, of telling yourself that this tip simply doesn’t apply at all to your entire presentation.

Photo by dynamist

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5 Comments


  1. At first I started reading this series, and I was like YEAH! But now I am starting to get a little annoyed. I am realizing that this series is going to start taking a bite out of my competitive edge in presenting. Darn you Tim Wilson.

  2. Pingback 10 Presentation Tips: Tip No. 9 — Make it Personal, Descriptive, and Tangible | Gilligan on Data by Tim Wilson

  3. Pingback Don’t feed the chameleons | B2B STORYTELLING

  4. Pingback » 10 Presentation Tips No. 8: We Have Five Senses. Use TWO! | Tim Wilson's Blog at Web Analytics Demystified

  5. Pingback » 10 Presentation Tips No. 9: Personal, Descriptive, and Tangible | Tim Wilson's Blog at Web Analytics Demystified

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