When It Might Be OK to Read Your Slides

Knowing when to read the read the full slides of your presentation, when to paraphrase them, and when to let your attendees read them on their own. The way you read your slides can determine how much is learned during your session, along with keeping attendees engaged in your topic.

Have you ever had the exasperating experience of hearing speakers read their slides to you? I certainly have. One time a keynote speaker turned to the screen and read the several sentences on the slide. Next slide: same thing. Next slide . . .  I’ve heard other presenters read their slides as if it was story time for three year olds.

If you give presentations, make no mistake: Reading the slides annoys your audience and makes you look unprepared and unprofessional. Instead, replace any lengthy text with a few keywords and use those keywords as a prompt for the points you’re making. Slides should support the presenter, not be the presentation.

There’s one situation, though, in which reading a slide might be a good idea. I realized this at a recent presentation in which a few slides displayed an entire paragraph. I expected the presenter to read the paragraph, but no, he paraphrased it.

Here’s the thing: When you display a slide filled with text, it’s natural for the audience to try to read it. But as this fellow spouted his own version of the information on these slides, it was impossible to both listen to him and read the text.

As I learned while writing my book, Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals, there’s something called cognitive load theory, which says (among other things) that we have difficulty processing information that’s coming at us in written and spoken form simultaneously, especially when the two don’t match.

Therefore, if you have a slide with, say, a quote, don’t muddle things by paraphrasing it. Read it exactly as it appears on the slide. Or pause long enough for listeners to read it themselves.

Similarly, if you have the unpleasant task of giving a presentation using slides someone else created and some of the slides contain lengthy text, read it exactly; don’t deviate from it. If you can add something in your own words, you might keep the audience from drifting into snoozeland. But add your points after you’ve read the text. The audience might be annoyed that you’re reading to them, but they’d be even more annoyed if the slide says one thing and you’re saying something else.
Best thing if you’re the one creating the slides: weed out the wordiness. Then you won’t be tempted to insult your audience by reading to them.

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