Having delivered a large number of technical presentations over my career, and sat through countless more, I wanted to share an approach to slide design that has raised my effectiveness as a presenter and that I have appreciated as an audience member. The default approach for powerpoint slide design is to have a title followed by a bulleted list of points and phrases. Best case, a presenter may put a key takeaway point or conclusion at the bottom of the slide, worst case the audience is left to guess at what point the presenter is attempting to make.
A different approach to slide design is referred to as the assertion-evidence approach. You put the key statement or conclusion at the top of the slide (the assertion), then all of the data to support that assertion (the evidence) in the body of the slide. This way, there is no confusion about what key point you are making for the audience.
Should the audience be drifting in and out of paying attention, at least they will see key point when you transition the slide, and if that assertion captures their interest, you’ll hold their attention for a longer time.
Ever feel like you’ve delivered a strong presentation, but when you asked for questions at the end all you got was blank stares? This used to happen to me frequently. When I started using the assertion-evidence approach I found immediately that my audiences were more engaged and asked insightful questions at the end.
Your audience is busy, easily distracted, multi-tasking, etc. As a result, you don’t have the luxury to keep your key points a secret. Hit them early and often with the key messages so that they hear them before their attention may drift away. And, if those key assertions are compelling, you’ll have an audience that will then eagerly listen to your evidence and stay with you for the duration of the presentation.
For a quick primer on the approach, visit: http://www.writing.engr.psu.edu/slides.html.