Road test your slides for better performance

by Derek Featherstone

Use a simple strategy for improving your slides real world performance.

I'm sitting in the airport in Minneapolis on my way home after speaking Confab Central. What a great team that puts the conference together AND a wonderfully engaged audience!

While I saw a few excellent presentations, I saw a few that made me think of one small thing that speakers could do to make their presentations better.

Road-test your slides.

I don't mean road-test your presentation, as in, practicing it in front of the mirror, or other audiences or anything else like that. Yes, those things will make you better.

I'm truly talking about road-testing your slides, at the venue, in the conditions in which you'll be delivering them. Why?

Colour contrast

The colours you've chosen look great on your screen, but every projector is different. You need to test your slides in the real context in which they'll be viewed. Lights dimmed, on the projector, and in the eyes of someone that is at the back of the room.

Size matters

Yes, I said it. You need to check the size of your screen elements. Your text, your images, things you want to highlight. Again, you need to view them under real delivery conditions. This is especially important with wide aspect ratio (16:9) slide formats. That slide format needs larger elements on it to be easily readable to someone at the back of the room.

Slides with distinction

I'm not talking about your slides in general. I'm talking about certain elements of your slides. The callouts. The little bits of text you place over the screenshot. They need to actually stand out. And just because you see them standing out when you're creating your slides, doesn't mean that they stand out when they're being seen by someone at the back of the room.

Soooo, how then?

Both Keynote and PowerPoint have a feature that allow you to record your slide show. Do that. Don't stay too long on any single slide. If you have 30 slides for a 1 hour talk, leave each one up for about 3 seconds. That's 90 seconds total. Record it.

Then, when you get to the venue, do a road test, preferably an hour or so in advance.

  1. Setup your slide deck
  2. Push play recorded slideshow.
  3. Get to the back of the room (and other positions if you have time) and watch how your slides look from there.

How do your slides hold up? Make any changes you need. Make colours darker, text bigger, callouts more obvious.

Your audience will thank you.

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