Presentations – One Antidote to PowerPoint Poisoning – The UR Rule

PowerPoint poisoning is rampant in presentations today. Busy, overdone, hard-to-read visuals with questionable value is so commonplace that many speakers and their audiences have become complacent, just accepting the less than idea status quo. Yet there is an antidote to PowerPoint Poisoning. Here is one great solution: Apply the “UR” Rule.

A great strategy is: Apply the UR Rule. If every presenter applied the UR rule to every slide, he or she would find that (a) they could probably get rid of about half their planned slides, and (b) the slides that were left would be purposeful, clear and easy to read. What is the “UR” rule? The letters stand for “Understand” and “Remember.” Ask yourself: “Does this visual help my audience Understand or Remember anything?” That’s the primary purpose a visual should serve. Otherwise, what good is it?

Seriously. Why else would you have visuals? If they’re cute, or clever, or creative, or have sound effects or flying graphics, you might have a good “slide show” on your hands. (Remember 35 mm slides and how you moaned when the in-laws wanted you to watch the slide show of their Mount Rushmore vacation?) But what do you want to accomplish with your presentation? Do you want to entertain with creative graphics? Or would you rather get a point across or explain a status or influence the group’s decision? Given that, indeed, most presentations have that kind of objective, then how can your slides help you serve that function? If, and only if, they pass the “UR” Rule.

 So which of the following slide content would satisfy the “UR” Rule?

1. Some clip art of a computer screen when the speaker is talking about computer technology

2. A “wall of words,” so crammed full of verbiage, the audience can’t read it

3. A list of bullet points that are long, complete sentences forcing the audience to read through it all instead of just grasping it

4. A graph with all axes labeled and explained, several lines intersecting it, and lots of background copy explaining all the points

5. Simply the words: “Tips for PowerPoint”

The correct answer is… none of them. Slides that are too busy or complex in any way invariably mean that the audience either can’t read them or else have to take a lot of time to read and comprehend them (which means, by the way, they’re not listening to the speaker). Certainly this is not going to help them understand or remember any points. A slide with a cute graphic on it, say an hourglass when the speaker makes a reference to time, contributes in no way to the understanding of the message. A slide that just has a “title” on it (“The Advantage,” or “Thank you,” or “Questions”) doesn’t help the audience remember or understand a darn thing. Even transition slides, “Step Two,” don’t satisfy the UR rule. You don’t need a visual to make transitions — you can be the transition. 
 
So ask the UR question for every slide you think you want to use. Make your goal to reduce both the number of slides and the amount of content on each slide. And appreciate the value of a black slide inserted from time to time to let the focus be on you instead of the visuals. If you can apply the UR rule, you’re so much farther along in your goal to have your visuals support and enhance your presentation instead of detracting from it.

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