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Turning ‘slideuments’ into visual aids.

April 30, 2010

One of the many useful and memorable things in Nancy Duarte’s book, slide:ology, was her discussion of turning ‘slideuments’ into visual aids.

A ‘slideument’ is a slide that’s really a text document created as a slide.

Her rule of thumb for recognizing one is: if there are more than 75 words on the slide, then what you have is a ‘slideument’. Personally, I don’t think it needs nearly that many words to qualify, but the key idea is simply that lots of text belongs in a document, not a slide. (Yes, you can break this “rule,” but first you have to know the rule and second, have a good reason why you’re breaking it.)

Think that 75 word count is exaggeration? It’s not. Just for fun, I pulled up a short presentation I saw awhile back. The presentation was fairly technical, not nearly as bad as most I see and came off reasonably well. Ignoring title slides and such there were 8 content slides. Counting words and bullets I got:

Bullet count Word count
4 67
11 77
7 46
10 41
16 34
0 12

The only thing unusual about this presentation was that it wasn’t too long and the presenter at least avoided reading the slides to us.

See the last slide? No bullets. It was a nice, big picture with a label. It’s the only one I remembered before opening the file, and I’m very sure that picture was the only thing anyone remembered the next day. All the other slides would have been more effective as a printed page. The total content would have fit on one or two pages nicely as a handout, with 2-3 slides to highlight a few key points and guide the discussion. In fact, the presenter ended up printing them and handing them out in mid-stream so we could discuss them.

Graphic example of slide full of textGetting away from something too specific, here’s how you recognize a slideument after you made one. It’s going to look something like this:

These are painfully common, rarely useful and never a visual aid for the presenter.

So throw them away? No, not at all.

Here’s how to transform these and make them useful three times over!

1. First, go through all the slides and copy+paste the text into a Word document, format it and you’ve got your leave-behind point paper, summary, or a full-blown report.

example slide with just several long bullet text lines2. Second, go back and delete all but the top bullets, then condense those so they don’t wrap. Now its going to look something like this:

This is not a visual aid—this is a teleprompter page for the presenter. Useful, but not to the audience—copy and paste this to the PowerPoint “notes” page so you, the presenter, can use it.

3. Third, back on the slide, find a few key words in each bullet and delete the rest so you’ve got:
example with short lines of a few words per bullet

Now you’ve got something that might be a visual aid.

4. Last. But now that you’re on a roll, don’t stop—look carefully at this one. What’s the key idea, point or concept here? Ask yourself: “Could I turn that point into a picture (diagram, chart, etc) instead of text?” If so, do it, because it will be more effective.

Finally, you’ve really got a visual aid—something that will help you tell the story and they don’t need to read. (Remember: the slide turned into a diagramaudience will read the slides if you put them up there and if they’re reading them, they can’t listen to you.)

Did I hear someone say “That’s a lot of work” ?

Yes, doing this is more work and will take longer—but you’ve now created your leave-behind (or read ahead), your speaker notes and the visual aids. Not a bad return on the time invested. The result will be that you’ll look better prepared (because you are), and you will have wasted nothing on those slideuments that you started with.

Invest the time and effort, the results will be worth it—you’ll have far greater impact!


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