[This post is part of our series on Public Speaking in the Church]
Slides. Some people love them, others hate them. Most speakers I know do both, with equal passion. Slides have advantages, when used well, but they can also distract from your message, or even negate it. Let’s look at some common mistakes with slides.
Too Much Text
The first mistake is the most common one. People still struggle with putting too much text on a slide. The only example when this is okay is when you put your Bible passage on slides. Even then, I’d recommend cutting it into smaller pieces (see reason 2).
In case you wonder what the issue is: people cannot read and listen at the same time. So if they’re reading your summary on the screen, they’re not listening to you. If you want your audience to listen, keep the text on the slides short. My goal is one or two sentences max.
(and by the way: putting bullets in front of your text doesn’t mean you can use more text…just saying)
Font Too Small or Weird
Often related to mistake 1, because you can cram way more text on a slide if you decrease the font size. The goal of the remaining text is that people can actually read it. That means the people on the last row, too. So test it, make sure it’s legible even from waaaaay far in the back.
The same is true for fancy fonts. Not all of these are suitable for using on a slide. Slides have to be legible above all else, so use simple, true-and-tried fonts. Sans-serif often works better, so use go-to fonts like Arial or Helvetica.
Not Enough Contrast
This can go two ways: sometimes people make the background too light or dark in comparison to the text, making it hard to read. Or they choose colors that don’t mesh well, like red letters on a yellow background, or yellow letters on a black background. Unless you’re making a Star Wars movie, then the latter is fine.
Don’t forget that presentations look completely different on your computer screen than they do on a big screen. That blurred background may look perfect on your Mac, but turn out to be way too dark on the church’s screen. And yes, this is one of the more common mistakes with slides I’ve made. Repeatedly, until I learned to test better.
Not Suitable for Color Blind
Color blindness affects more people than you’d think, men especially. If you use many colors, this will make it harder for them to read your slides. To prevent this, use simple black-and-white for text slides, or test your colors in apps that show you how color blind will perceive them.
Here’s a question for you: when you make slides, do you ever wonder what the purpose is? Aside from the fact that everyone seems to do it, why are you making slides? What is your goal with these?
Slides are meant as visual support for your talk. If your talk doesn’t need it, skip the slides. If your message does warrant visual support, make sure that’s what the slides do. Hint: stating your key points or a summary is not necessarily visual support.
Forgetting the Learning Styles
Most of us know that people learn in different ways. There are many different theories and classifications of learning styles, but let me give a few examples.
Some people are highly auditory, meaning they take information in through listening. Others are read/write, meaning they prefer written materials. Then there are the tactile people, who prefer to touch things, create something. And don’t forget visual people, who prefer information presented in a visual way. You have people who prefer the theory before the practice, learners who want the opposite, and the group who learns by watching others, or by experimenting.
However you want to classify learning styles, remember this: merely talking attracts one group of people, those with auditory learning styles. And most of these will prefer theory as well. Using slides is a great way to captivate those with different learning styles.
If your talk lends itself to using graphs, or other visual representations, use these. If your key message can be represented with a picture, put that on the screen. If you can tie it to a demonstration, do that on stage, but use a symbol for it on your slides. Always use pictures and short words together, so both read/write and visual people will be drawn to your slides.
Speaking From the Slides
This truly is a beginner’s mistake, but I still see it too often. When you speak, you look at the audience, not at your slides or the screen. Also, you can’t read from your slides. They’re meant as visual support, not as your talking notes. Let me put it this way: if your talk would be doomed if your slides didn’t work for some reason, you’re doing it wrong.
Too Many Graphic Mistakes
Look, not everyone is a graphic designer. I’m not a talent at visual design either. As a result, I’ve learned to keep my slides simple and minimalistic. You don’t want too many colors, fonts, animations, transitions, etc. Stay simple and keep it consistent.
Not Testing Your Presentation
Make sure to test your presentation, on the actual screen and computer you’ll be using it. If you’re using your own laptop, make sure it works. Hint: bring the right cables if you have to, especially Mac users who are using a Windows system. The more bells and whistles your presentation has (audio, video, etc.) the more thoroughly you’ll need to test-drive it.
Bonus Tip: turn off your wifi during your talk, and switch off all notifications. I had a persistent pop up during a talk once that Microsoft was ready to install some updates…awkward!
I’ve listed some common mistakes when using slides, but I’m sure you’ve seen more, either as a speaker, or as an audience member. Have I forgotten one?
Share in the comments!