Read your PowerPoint slides!

Is there anyone who has not heard, "Don't read your PowerPoint slides to the audience during a presentation"?

portuguese businessman giving high tech presentation 42 22561075
Credit: Corbis

It’s OK to look at the screen and read from your slides during a presentation. Sacrilege, I know. But you have permission to look at the screen, and even read a little of it aloud, as long as you obey the following rules:

When to read from slides

  • It is fine to refer to the screen occasionally to sync up where you are in the presentation. But don’t read every slide. I look to the screen about every other or third slide just to confirm where I am.
  •  Don’t read every word on a slide. Just highlight the important thing(s) you want the audience to be looking at on that slide.
  • The slides are basically the notes I speak from, so bullets can act as prompts. They serve as visual cues. But they are not your script and you should not recite bullets word for word. When looking at the slide, look for key words and “read” quickly to yourself, not aloud.
  • It is O.K. to read verbatim from a slide if the bullet contains an important quote — or concept you are branding — that you want to make sure everyone gets.Give the audience a second before and after you read the full quote, allowing them to see the quote "printed" on the screen for themselves (with the writer's attribution if appropriate) to let it register.

How to read from slides

  • Before you turn to look towards the screen, you must make sure you are standing far enough stage right or stage left so that you are not blocking the audience’s view of the screen.
  • Turn toward the screen. But don’t turn your back entirely to the audience. Only turn about 90 degrees to look back at the screen, not a full 180 degrees.
  • Always turn in toward the screen. Do not turn away toward the walls before coming about a full 180 degrees to arrive at the screen.
  • Try not to simply twist around at the waist with your feet planted firmly forward. Open up your stance with you inner foot leading back toward the screen.
  • Immediately return to the audience after reading whatever it is you are going to read. Don’t continue staring at the screen while you click to the next slide. Is the audience still with you? Were they listening and did they comprehend what it is that you read to them?
  • If it is a long passage, try to break it up into shorter more easily digestible bites.
  • Use a pointer if you have one to show the audience generally where you are reading from on the slide…where they should be looking on the screen.
  • If, heaven forfend, you are reading from the slide notes on your laptop, all the same rules from “When to Read from Slides” above still apply.
  • When you read, it should be discovery reading.“And look here…what this says.” Read the way you read with a child, as if you are both making the discovery at the same time, not a dull recitation. Do not condescend. Share and enjoy the audience's moment of discovery.

Preparation

You should definitely look to the screen and read from your slides in rehearsal. In fact you must, because that is what you are asking your audience to do. If you have difficulty reading the bullets because the font is too small or the text is too dense, then your audience will have an even harder time.

Does the text read well? Do the bullets read the way you want the audience to make sense of them? If not, change them.

It’s better if you don’t read aloud from your slides during the presentation, but if you do it is not the end of the world. You have not failed if you look at the screen, and you will not turn to stone so long as you keep these guidelines in mind.

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