In attention, pitching, slides

If you have slides with multiple elements, I think you should build them up, piece by piece, from blank.  This gives you a number of benefits.  The first is control.  If there’s not much to look at, I’m more likely to listen to you.

If you don’t do this, you have a problem. You’ve no idea where the audience are looking. Even if you use a laser pointer or your hand to show what you’re talking about, you’re extremely optimistic if you really believe that’s all the audience are looking at. If you show it, they will look at it.  For the first few seconds you’ve got no control at all. When a new slide with multiple elements appears, the audience will look all over the slide, trying to understand it. This is called the ‘orienting response’ and it’s automatic.

If you used eye-tracking, you’d see their eyes going everywhere, just trying to get to grips with this new information: “What is this?”  This is where their attention is.  Attention that is not available for your words. By the time they tune into your words again, you’re in the middle of your point, and they’re lost.

Another point is how are they looking at the slide? Most people aren’t very systematic in processing complex slides.  They simply move their eyes around the slide, focusing on one or two key words, without really reading what you’ve written. You have the worst of all worlds: they aren’t listening to what you’re saying, and they aren’t really reading what you’ve written. This is why I’d always start with a blank, and build up the information as and when I’m ready to talk about it.

Second, showing the full slide first robs you of any chance to build curiosity, create suspense and drama. So the impact is often zero. If, instead, I build my slide, I can ask questions before I show the next point, I can make them curious.

I can get them to predict what’s next, and maybe surprise them with something they didn’t expect. Curiosity and surprise lend impact.

Third, it helps you – the presenter. If you click straight on to the full slide you have to decide where to start, what to say first. If you build it, you’ve already taken those decisions. You’ve decided on the order, you’ve decided on the right words.  Your structure and rhetoric is built in to your slide.  So it’s much easier to present.

People often think that building the slide will make them slower, but in fact – if you do it right – it usually makes your pitch faster and sharper.  Why? Because you have to know exactly what you want to say for each click, and so your message becomes far more focused.

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