In a recent comment on my personal Facebook page, a preacher friend of mine asked about presenting to audiences that want to take notes. He’s heard me say before that you ought to have one idea per slide, but I think he’s concerned with folks who may write slowly and want to glance back at the previous point. Are they just out of luck?
Optimizing your presentation for note-takers is a good question, and one that I’ll admit I hadn’t given much thought to. So I went looking to see if I could find any research that’s been done on making slides note-friendly.
The results were pretty sparse, and most of what I found were for note takers, not presenters. It seems most people agree the responsibility lies with the note-taker to keep up with the speaker rather than the other way around.
In looking back over a few of my presentation and cognitive theory books, though, I did run across a few things that I think presenters ought to keep in mind to help their audiences capture their ideas most effectively.
1. Provide a handout.
Starting on page 66 of his book, Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds talks about the liberating power of a handout, which can serve many valuable purposes.
First and foremost, it allows you to include much more detail about a given topic than you can hope to cover in your speech, leaving you free to focus on just the most salient points. Audiences can your points written down for them to digest later, and dig deeper if desired.
Many people also leave a copy of their slides behind as the handout. Reynolds warns against this, though, because this forces you to put all of your information into your slides; a big no-no. “Instead, prepare a detailed document for handout and keep the slides simple.” (Presentation Zen, page 66)
From a note-taking standpoint then, publishing a handout is a good idea because it will allow you to de-clutter your slides, while still enabling your audiences to refer back to an earlier point if necessary.
2. Communicate in pictures more than words.
John Medina makes this point verbatim on page 238 of Brain Rules, his excellent and very readable book about how our brains work. There are a couple reasons for this.
First, pictures deliver information far more efficiently than text. You’ve heard that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Just think of how much more quickly you can process a picture than a thousand words ( 3-4 pages of text?). You do have to be creative in order to find pictures that illustrate certain ideas but it’s usually possible. (Chapter 2 of Slideology by Nancy Duarte is all about strategies for how to do this.)
Another reason considers the way our brains process multiple streams of input. They’re great at processing verbal and visual input at the same time (think of a movie), but if you give them two streams of verbal information, they’re forced to chose one or the other. Hence, if you put too much text on a slide, the audience will either read it or listen to you, but they can’t do both.
Use pictures to reinforce your spoken words, and the note-takers should be able to grasp your ideas long enough to get them down.
3. Speak your main points.
This may seem like it goes with saying, but your audience must be able to understand your main points even without the slides. If the only way they know what your points were is by copying them off the slides then you’re in trouble. What would happen if there was a problem with the projection system?
Any time you make a point it ought to come out of your mouth. And don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Obviously you don’t want say the same sentence multiple times in a row, but it’s okay to say something important two or three times during the course of making that point in order to make sure it sinks in.
It’s always a good idea to consider how your audience learns and design your presentation accordingly. If they learn by taking notes, it’s in your best interest to accommodate them. Hopefully if you abide by the tips above your audiences won’t have any trouble following along.
What have I missed?