How slides diminish your power

Nobody thinks it’s a good use of time to sit in a room and read slides together.

If slides are ill-conceived, if they contain too many words, if they are a sea of bullets, if they overwhelm your colleagues, then you have given up your chance to be a change-maker.  You have given power to the software and the templates, rather than claiming the power position in the room.

If you use slides, they should be backdrop, not center stage. As a content expert, people gather in a room to hear YOU talk. They never gather for a slide-reading exercise.

Christine and I talk quite a bit about retooling slide use because we know it is ubiquitous in engineering and technical fields as a tool for information sharing. There’s very little point for us to talk about eschewing slides altogether, because we know from working with our practicing engineering colleagues that slides are the expected norm.

So, let’s work with what we have and claim our voices again. If we are asked to give a talk, focus on the talk. Use the slides as backdrops, not as the center show. YOU should be the centerpiece, and all attention should be on you, not your slides. People should not be trying to read your slides rather than listening to your words.

And if your slides have to do double duty (support for the live talk + archival use for future teams), see our extensive advice on how to do this effectively (Chapter 10). There are also shorter how-to pieces on this site in Case Study 3 and Case Study 4. More can also be found at the Assertion/Evidence site, where we also contribute.

–Traci Nathans-Kelly

(crossposted at

Case Study 4: Headers, visuals, notes

Complicated work can lead people to believe that complicated slides are necessary. In truth, the opposite will work better.  Keep complicated technical or scientific content simple when on the screen.  Here’s a great example.

For a course titles “Computer-Aided Engineering: Applications to Biological Processes,” the student team of Taha Ahmad, Karann Putrevu, Remy Walk,  and Cher (Xuexiang) Zhang performed some amazing work for their project titled Optimization of reversible electroporation for the destruction of an irregular brain tumor.  When it came time to showcase their work, they worked hard to make the findings accessible in an efficient manner.

This is a strong example of a sentence header plus visual evidence.

This example shows one of their typical slides that follows our recommended assertion+evidence approach.  There is a complete thought at the top, with powerful visual information in the center acreage.

Next, let’s look at how the team deployed the notes to their advantage.  During the talk, the slide does just what it needs to do: support  the speaker.  Then, because notes are used, the slide deck can go on to provide help and information later because of the notes.

Good slide with notes
When researchers and technical experts provide full talking points, the functionality of any slide deck increases








Thinking carefully about what it *is* that your audience needs at the moment of the presentation versus what information they might need in two or three months is a key shift that you should make. Using notes allows your slide deck to offload wordiness while supporting the larger technical endeavor.

Permission to use this slide example was granted from the authoring team. Reports from this class (not slides) can be found here, starting in 1999: .