by Edward Leigh, MA
During the morning break from an all-day physician workshop, a participant approached me (while smiling) and stated, “I’m angry at you!” He then went on to say, “I come to these seminars and always sit in the back. I open up my laptop to get work done, but you made me listen. You made me work. This is the best seminar I have attended in I don’t know how long.” I am not sharing this story so I could simply tell you how wonderful I am at presenting programs. Rather, I am sharing the story to reveal a significant problem in medical education. The red flag here is the dependence on PowerPoint as a teaching tool. Effective learning must be an active engaging process that stimulates the learners’ minds, not a passive process of simply looking at slides.
Before you create your first slide – answer this question. What’s your point? What are the goals of your session? When I coach people on their presentation skills, I always ask this question, “A month from now, what two to three points do you want people remember from your presentation? I am talking about the big picture take home points.” People struggle with this question often telling me they have dozens of points. Think about your big overall goals and build your slides from that information.
PowerPoint is ONE component of a dynamic presentation. In addition to the slides, we must have a great opening, powerful close, audience involvement and THE key attribute – enthusiasm! This is your subject and you must show your passion! PowerPoint is an aide to us, we are not an aide to it. The slides are part of our program, but they should never become THE program. You and your knowledge base are the stars of the show. In the very unexpected event of the PowerPoint not working, could you still present your program and engage the audience?
Avoid all-text slide presentations. This scenario creates an uninspiring presentation that leads to audience boredom. Incorporate photos and charts to make the program come alive. Periodically, add graphic elements between text slides to keep the audience interested in your presentation. A medical student told me he attended a presentation by a visiting professor, who spoke in a monotone voice and had text-only slides. When the professor was done speaking, the audience didn’t clap at first because they didn’t realize he completed his presentation! When an audience is so tuned out they don’t realize a presentation is over, that’s really bad news!
6 x 6 rule. No more than six lines per slide. No more than six words per line. It is important to think in terms of “less is more.” Each slide should contain ONE main idea. I have attended medical presentations in which the slides were so busy and complicated most audience members were completely baffled, which led to a lot of frustration. When coaching people on their presentation skills, the biggest issue I find is information overload.
No one learns when they are sleeping. Providing the slides to audience members and then simply reading the slides verbatim is not only a poor educational tool, it is also incredibly tedious. While attending typical medical programs, I often look around at the audience. I see few people truly engaged. Many people looking are at their smart phones, reading something else, quietly talking to a neighbor, or worse, sleeping. Since the audience can read, the presenter is not necessary. The audience members could read the slides on their own. To be truly effective, speakers must bring something more to the presentation.
Moving from passive to active audience members. Yes, you can engage audience members with PowerPoint! This can be done in a variety of ways. Put a question on a slide and ask the audience to briefly discuss the question with a neighbor. Then ask for responses. Show a picture and ask the audience, “What is going on here?” These very quick engagement tools perk up the audience! Go from dull to dazzling! When I incorporate questions in my slides, I do not put the answer in the written slides. They have to attend the session and listen to get the answer!
Be consistent with fonts, colors and backgrounds. You want the audience to focus on your content, not your ever-changing visuals. Also, the addition of animation and sound adds variety, but should not be used excessively. They key to an excellent presentation is balance. Also, be sure there is a significant contrast between the text color and the background color. For example, dark text on a dark background is very hard to read.
Use a text size of at least 24 point. I prefer a font size of 28 to 32 for text and 36 to 44 for titles. Try this readability test; put your slides on the screen and stand in the back of the room in which you will be presenting. Can you read the slides? I have been to many presentations in which the speakers say, “I know you can’t read this, but …” If the audience can’t read it, don’t show it.
Arrive at the program venue early to check the slides. It is important to arrive to a presentation location early for many reasons, including checking the AV equipment. Before the audience members arrive, check to be sure your slides are working properly. Unfortunately, I have seen many presentations start with this statement, “Does anyone know how to work this?” As a backup, even if I email my slides to the meeting planner, I always carry the slides with me on a flash drive. It is also a good idea to arrive early to meet audience members; this is helpful to gain insight as to their needs / questions. Through my pre-program chats, I have also received excellent ideas that I incorporated into the session. Audience members love this recognition! For example, I have stated, “Just before the program, I spoke to Steve who mentioned a great idea to help patients …” I have Steve waive his hand so the audience could acknowledge his great idea.
Separation of handout from slides. I speak at hundreds of medical conferences, and I am usually the only presenter that separates the slides from the handout. The handout is given to participants; the handout has all the information well organized into sections. The slides are highlights of key points, including graphics. There are also surprise questions and mini quizzes. The audience is constantly engaged. Granted, it takes more work to present in this manner. However, it is time well spent since I know people are engaged and learning. We do what’s best for our audiences, not what’s easiest for us.
Make PowerPoint work for you to create memorable presentations. You are brilliant, you are the expert – that is the reason you are making the presentation. The spotlight should be on you and your vast knowledge, not the slides.
Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication. The Center focuses on increasing patient satisfaction, improving compliance and decreasing the risk of medical errors. The Center offers high-impact training, consulting and one-on-one coaching. Edward Leigh’s new book, Engaging Your Patients, is due out in the Spring of 2014. http://www.CommunicatingWithPatients.com or 1-800-677-3256