By Jenna Wenkoff

Presentation slides have always run the risk of being boring. I think back to university lectures in dimly lit rooms and slides with walls of text. Now that presentations are being done over Zoom and we often can’t see our audience, the threat of boring slides is greater than ever.

Due to a recent project, I’ve put some serious thought into what makes slides engaging. Here’s four tips from my own experience and from experts on how to do it.

With most presentations now being virtual, keeping an audience’s attention can be harder than ever.

     1. The Awe Factor

An article from UC Berkeley found research indicating that experiencing awe produces psychological changes.

“…awe can create a diminished sense of self (an effect known as “the small self”), give people the sense that they have more available time, increase feelings of connectedness, increase critical thinking and skepticism, increase positive mood, and decrease materialism.”

In marketing you might not want to decrease materialism. If you want people to thoughtfully consider your message on the other hand, I recommend including awe-inspiring images, videos and quotes in your slides. I start my presentations with nature photography to put my audience in this connected, critical thinking headspace.

     2. Keep it Dynamic

Mix up your format and avoid text whenever possible.

An article from Forbes argues that “When you use rich media, you make your presentation more persuasive and potent. And you make it much more visually interesting too. So as you build your presentation, ask yourself: Where can I replace words with pictures and video?”

Forbes also recommends making your slides diverse.

“Move between stories, information, data, models, formulas, lists, etc. In fact, change the content format every two to four minutes to keep things dynamic and magnetic.”

Something I always do is animate the text on my slides. This article from Think Outside the Slide agrees. 

“Instead of displaying all of the slide content at once, use the animation feature in PowerPoint to build the content on your slides one piece at a time. Display each text point as you begin to speak about it, display each data series in a graph as you explain what it shows…”

     3. Timing is Everything

This may seem obvious, but how many times have you seen a presenter either skip ahead through slides, or talk to a slide that doesn’t relate to what they are saying?

This is why it’s important to have the right number of slides.

Quick and Dirty Tips explains how to calculate the number of slides to use.

“I suggest taking your overall amount of time for the presentation, and then subtracting approximately 15% for the opening and closing. Then take the remaining time and divide it by the number of main ideas you’d like to present. The result will tell you how much time you have to present each main idea within the body of your talk.”

From here you can work on how many slides you need for each main idea. Either way you want each slide to have a purpose.

     4. Tell a Story

I personally believe that communicators are storytellers. I recommend you think of slides as supporting the narrative structure of the presentation. Presentations often tell the story of encountering a problem, discovering a solution, and telling the audience how to implement this solution for themselves.

In this case you might begin with imagery relating to struggle, then when the solution is presented include images depicting ideas or thoughtfulness and conclude with calming images as the problem has been solved.

I won’t discuss the details here, but there’s plenty of research showing that we are wired for stories. Zoom slides may not be important to some, but to me they are another opportunity to tell a story.


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