Bad Slides Distracting Your Audience? How to Make Yours Good

Darren LaCroix explains how to make bad slides into good slides to improve your presentation.
Presentation expert, Darren LaCroix explains why we can’t overlook bad slides if we want to deliver good presentations.

Do your slides support your message? Or do they distract your audience? Presenters cannot overlook the quality and design of their slides. Find out how my friend and fellow presentation skills expert, Darren LaCroix improved his presentations by improving his slides:

Defend It Or Die!

by Darren LaCroix, CSP

When you see a courtroom drama on TV or in a movie, you see both the prosecutor and the defendant’s lawyers pleading their cases. You hear arguments from both sides as to what happened and why. You see forensic experts go over the evidence to explain it. As viewers, the more evidence we see, the clearer things become. If we only had that kind of time when we’re on stage delivering our messages.

Don’t expect your audience to read a text-heavy slide and listen at the same time!

Unfortunately, when we are using slides in our presentations, we have no time to clarify what we mean by them! Sometimes our slides are up for only a few minutes. People watching your program can either listen to you or try to figure out your slides. We need to invest time and effort in design to make them simple and clear, or your message will die on the platform.

While waiting to present a keynote presentation recently at a professional conference, I enjoyed watching other content-rich professionals present. Though I was scheduled to speak after lunch, I got there early to watch the presenter before me give his workshop. Before the event, I had looked at his website and was impressed with his qualifications and research. He seemed to be very knowledgeable. His slides, however, made me start questioning his credibility. They were horrible! Sitting in the back, I could barely read his multiple paragraphs of text. With each slide I looked at, it took me a great deal of time to figure out what he was trying to say. Because I had evaluated his credibility beforehand, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. People who had not done that probably had a much worse impression than mine.

When I coach my corporate clients who give sales presentations, I play a game with them. It is usually in a small group setting with some of their peers. I let them go through their presentation once completely. Then I remind them that each slide should have only one point. Each point should be clear and simple, reinforcing what you verbalize. Next, I pull up one of their slides and ask, “What is your one point? Defend your slide.” Rarely can they answer the question succinctly. Why? Because their slides are not clear, and they are trying to make too many points with each slide. You should not need to defend each slide. It should be clear. This is a simple and powerful idea.

An example of how to do it right, from Cathey Armillas’ presentation, “How to Rock a Ted Talk.”

Model a pro. The quality of your slides reflects your brand and your value, like it or not. Have you seen a professional presenter who had clean slides? What did they look like? Why not model clean slides? Marketing strategist and author, Cathey Armillas, uses very clean slides and is a great example of what to model.

For over a decade, I had thought my own slides were good. Though they weren’t over-saturated with text, they looked “cheesy.” It took people who cared about me and knew design to tell me the truth. Patricia Fripp, a Hall of Fame Speaker and Past President of the National Speakers Association, had been telling me to hire a professional who creates slides to clean them up. Honestly, I had been too cheap in the past to do so.  I also thought that if I just had a cool looking, textured blue background, I would look professional. Last year was the first time I paid someone to create my slides for me.

Patricia also pointed out that I had typos and punctuation errors on my slides. My bad. I did not want to take the time to have someone go over them, because I was so busy. Ouch! I’m finally waking up and seeing how bad it was. I’m writing this article to wake you up in case you are not aware. Though people in my audience like me and are forgiving, that does not mean it is OK. It does not mean that they do not see the “cheesiness” of my slides. It is time for me to step up.

Hire a pro. I hired a professional designer, Cynthia Lay, to create a textured background for me, and I believed I was fine. I thought that was all I needed. After all, I was not using the built-in template and overused images. The problem, though, still lay with me. I was so strong-willed and naive about design and branding that I insisted she follow my horrible directions. I was not a very good listener, either. Again, my bad.

Bad Slide Example
Note that it is difficult to read the red text on the dark blue background. Think twice before using Comic Sans font for a professional or business presentation.

Here is an unedited example of what I thought looked professional.

This is a slide that I used as recently as last month. Yikes! I’m almost embarrassed to show you because of my new perspective. I’m more concerned about you, though, than what you think of my old slides. This was prior to my recent enlightenment.

Stand out from the crowd for a good reason. Because there are so many horrible slide presentations out there, it is easier to stand out if you look through the eyes of a professional. I’m not one, but I’m using the eyes now of those who see what I do not. Preparing like a pro means making the time to consider the clarity and appearance of your slides.

Before you go on stage, defend each of your own slides. Sit down with someone, and get feedback from them about the clarity of each slide just like you get feedback on your speech. My corporate clients are now required by their supervisors to walk through their slide decks with a peer before they present it to a potential client. We must look at everyone in our audience as a potential client. It will take some time, but this is about your image and your value. If you are confusing people with your slides, you are diluting the power of your message. Your message will die right there on the platform, and no one will take it with them.

Slide Example Good
So much easier to read! And, so much more professional in design and style!

You do not have time on the platform to plead the case for each slide. Your audience is seeing your slides for the first time. They can’t be listening to you and trying to figure out the point you are making. They have no forensic expert to figure out what you meant to say. If you are not clear, how will they be? Find a professional to help you at least set up your slide templates. That is what I’m starting to do myself. Your slides should create “feng shui” with your brand. If you know this already, please forward this article to someone who “doesn’t get it.” People need direct feedback from someone they know and trust. I wish that had I listened to Patricia Fripp and Cynthia sooner. That being said, I rest my case, but you shouldn’t! Do not rest until your slides are clean and mean.

Thank you Darren!

Fripp Virtual TrainingIf you want to become a great speaker easily, conveniently, and quickly, FrippVT can help. Enjoy three free chapters on Stories, Openings, and Sales:

“I wanted a super bowl-quality coach, and I was lucky to be introduced to Patricia Fripp. Her help in coaching and scripting was world class. With Patricia Fripp on your team, you can go places.”
– Don Yaeger, Long-Time Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated magazine, Award-Winning Keynote Speaker, New York Times Best-Selling Author

Here are a few more complimentary resources on to help you use slides to support your message and not detract from it: “12 Mistakes Made when Creating PowerPoint® Slides And How to Correct Them,” “8 Mistakes Made when Presenting with PowerPoint® And How to Correct Them,” “Do You Know How to Correctly Use Visual Aids in Your Presentation?,” and “Audiences Want to Connect with Real People.”

Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive