“It’s complicated to keep it simple!” You measure this concept every day when you’re asked to speak. And the more you develop your expertise, the more you’ll be asked to simplify and get to the essentials, to put your precious knowledge within reach of an audience that knows less than you. We get lost in useless details, we drown our audience in our own particular jargon and especially, above all, we scroll through the slides in such a way that our audience cannot make head nor tail of our subject. In short, this is how an expert, who may have the best intentions, fails in his or her mission of sharing knowledge.
Yet, on the subject of simplicity, the experts that we are have a simple belief: keeping it simple is not that complicated! This is a subject that we particularly like dealing with and that will impact your preparation, your remarks and also your visual aids! The reflex of an expert is to accumulate demonstrations, figures and graphs on his slides resulting in overloaded, complex and especially counterproductive visual aids. To give meaning to your slides and to make them amplify rather than complicate your remarks, there are several basic principles to apply:
- One idea per slide. Don’t launch into designing your slides when you get started. Above all, you need to structure and simplify your remarks to the maximum, and make sure you have your key ideas in mind. Once your ideas are clear, get started constructing your storyboard, that is to say, the sequencing of your slides, key idea after key idea. Before even thinking about designing elements, it’s crucial to be clear about the ideas you want to display. The golden rule to respect at all costs: one idea per slide. Once your storyboard is built, this is where you’ll be able to think about your formatting.
- The least text possible. Your slides are not meant to be read! If your audience is reading your slides, it is because you have put in too much text! That’s why it’s important to reduce your text to a minimum, so that at a glance your audience will know the point you’re trying to make. By displaying the least amount of text possible, you force your audience to listen to you and hence your text is only intended to anchor your key ideas. To avoid long sentences, prioritize your ideas in several levels of information and play on fonts (upper case / lower case / bold). Be careful not to exceed three levels of information and avoid bullet points that encourage reading!
- Visual aids anchor my idea. Whether image or pictogram, the unique function of your visual is to amplify your idea. A slide is not there to decorate and even less to distract but to promote recall. We should avoid at all costs mosaics of images and favor the full format.
- Figures instead of tables. Tables simply do not belong on slides and should be avoided at all costs. After all, you will not go through each of the cells. If a number has its place in your argument, extract it from the table and ask yourself the story it tells. That’s what you need to talk about.
- What else can I remove? After implementing the 4 principles above, you have one last filter to apply. Rather than asking what’s missing and what you can add, ask yourself what you can remove! This is the key to simplification: realizing that everything is not meant to be said or shown, so that your impact will be multiplied. For those who love rules, a good exercise is to submit each of your slides to the 5 second rule. Ask a colleague to participate and display your slide for 5 seconds. When the time is up, remove your slide and ask your colleague what he retained from this slide. If in 5 seconds, he has not managed to grasp everything, it means you’ll have to remove something!
You now have all the ingredients to share your knowledge with the greatest number, with impactful slides that will amplify your speech. But the good news doesn’t stop here! Simplifying your visual aids also guarantees saving time in your preparation. Your expertise… in all simplicity.