9 reasons you should put words on your slides

I hate bullet-filled PowerPoint slides, but neither do I advocate having no words on a slide. That’s just going to another extreme. Images and words combined are the most effective PowerPoint slide design for most technical and business presentations. Here are eleven reasons why:

1. A picture may be worth a thousand words – but it may be a different thousand words for each member of the audience. By adding a clarifying sentence you ensure that every person in your audience gets the point you wanted to make with the picture. For example, this slide could make many different points. I ensured my audience got the point with the simple sentence:

laughing audience

2. Stunning photography can be memorable – but your audience may not remember the point (are there TV ads that you love but you don’t know what they’re for?). By putting some words directly on the image you ensure that the image is linked with your point in their memory.

3. An agenda slide gives your audience a skeleton from which to hang your oral presentation.

agenda slide

4. When you’re showing data in the form of a graph or chart the audience can often get lost as they try and make sense of the data at the same time as you’re talking. A concise sentence explaining the meaning of the data will prevent that.

Attention graph with heading

5. A clear and succinct sentence expressing your key message gives your message longevity. If you say it, and an audience member didn’t quite hear it or didn’t quite grasp it…it’s gone. Having it on the slide allows them to reread it so that they can grasp it.

key message slide

6. You can also highlight the points of your presentation in the same way. This has two advantages:

  • If an audience member daydreams for a moment, they’ll be able to get back on track quickly.
  • If you’re speaking in your second (or third) language, or if your audience is listening in their second language, one clear and succinct sentence on each slide will help your audience keep track and ensures they understand your main points.

But remember, the more points you emphasize in this way, the less each one is emphasized.

7. Most audience members find it useful to be able to read, rather than have to listen, to a longish quote. Put the slide up and be silent while they read:

Clinton quote slide

8. When you’re explaining a diagram, including text labels to identify the diagram components will help audience members make sense of the diagram. This applies to simple and complex diagrams:

Comfort zone simple Kiva flowchart

9. If you’re using unfamiliar words, jargon or acronyms having them on the screen will help people grasp and remember them. If I’m giving a presentation on Kiva without slides, I have to spell out the name Kiva. It’s much easier to use a slide!

kiva logo on slide

I’d love to give you some research-based evidence to back this up, but the research focuses on the benefits of adding visuals to words, rather than adding words to visuals. That’s fair. It’s still the main battle we’re fighting when it comes to PowerPoint slide design.

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