A study conducted at the University of Munich has confirmed the results of two previous studies I’ve written about—a study from Purdue and another from the University of Barcelona.
And the news is truly bad for the 30 to 40 million slide-driven presentations, lectures, workshops, seminars, and training programs delivered worldwide each day.
If slides are your crutch, it’s bad news for you, too.
There is now absolutely no question that your audience misses large portions of what you say when you show your slides and talk at the same time.
The Munich study confirmed that “the retention of oral information was significantly lower in the condition with regular slides than in the condition without slides.”
Of course, if you believe that what the presenter says isn’t important, perhaps it makes no difference. But there is a critical question to ask of those who believe the presenter isn’t absolutely essential to every effective presentation: If what the presenter says isn’t important, why is she or he taking up our time in the first place?
In another objection to the research, some might ask: “If the audience loses a large portion of what’s said, isn’t there an offsetting gain by showing the slides?”
According to the researchers, the answer is no.
In other words, if you use what the researchers called “regular” slides in your presentation (like the one to the right), your audience is going to miss large portions of what you say, no matter how well you say it or how hard they struggle to absorb it.
Logically, this would apply even more to charts and graphs, which require more reading and more concentration to decipher than the regular slide shown here.
And there is no question that what you lose by asking your audience to read and listen at the same time is not regained in any way by showing your slides.
Regular Slides vs Concise Slides
The regular slide format contained a total of 12 slides: a title slide; a structural slide; and 10 additional slides. No slide in this series contained more than eight lines (excluding the heading) or six bullet points.
Conversely, concise slides used six slides to explain the same information: a title slide, a structural slide; and four additional slides. The researchers also used “black” slides between the regular slides. No slide in this series contained more than seven lines (excluding the heading) or five bullet points.
While their research confirmed that the “retention of oral information is higher with concise slides or without slides than with regular slides,” they could not state that the overall retention of concise slides was any better than not using slides at all.
The Bottom Line
In 5 Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’, the third step is: “Minimize visual aids.” I am 100 per cent confident that the research from Purdue, Barcelona and Munich supports the logic of that suggestion.
There are three things to keep in mind when minimizing visual aids, two of which were dealt with directly in the research.
First, to enhance your success, you must absolutely minimize the information on slides if you cannot overcome your PowerPoint addiction and eliminate them altogether (or only use one or two where needed). If your slides look like the regular slide shown here, turn off the projector, use your slides as notes (visible to you, but not to the audience), and talk to your audience.
Second, you must absolutely minimize the number of slides you use. As the researchers demonstrated, by cutting the number of content slides by 60 per cent, and by using blank slides between content slides, retention of information increased.
There is a simple test to determine this. If someone can read your slides and understand your presentation, you have too many slides and too much on each slide.
Third, don’t be afraid to use other visual aids. Whiteboards, flip charts, blackboards and pieces of paper are not only excellent visual aids, they are not slides. Each one is a different tool; each one has a different purpose.
Finally, don’t be afraid to turn off the projector and talk to your audience. If you believe that what you say is important, the research is clear:
Simply talking to your audience, while minimizing your visual aids, is absolutely the best way to be heard, understood and remembered.