You've been in that meeting. In fact, as soon as you read the title, you knew exactly what I was talking about. You've all experienced a presentation where the person in the front of the room stands at a podium, or before a large screen, and simply recites for you a series of bullet-points on the screen.

Sometimes it's because of a lack of preparation, or perhaps confidence, but either way, it's not a good look. It also makes your audience feel like you must not think their time is important or you would have put more thought and preparation into your presentation

So, stop being that person.

Seriously, if you don't have anything else to add beyond what's already on the screen, just print them out on paper and hand them out. Or, better yet, just email them and we can skip the meeting. 

The reason you're speaking in front of a room of people is presumably that you have something important to share. Someone somewhere thinks you have the communication chops to engage your audience and leave them both educated and inspired. Nothing leaves people less inspired, or educated for that matter, than slide after slide of bullet-points. 

Ask yourself a question: Have you ever seen a TED Talk where the speaker stood there and basically just repeated the words on the screen? I'll help you out. You haven't. 

Here's what to do instead:

Use stories instead of bullet-points.

People don't connect to products, or data, or companies. People connect to stories. Your job, when you're standing in front of the room, is to weave whatever important information you have into a story that helps people engage. 

By the way, stories don't have bullet-points, they have characters and action and feeling. Instead of talking about your project or product, talk about how it has impacted real people and how it will make your audience's life better. 

Also, it's tempting to list bullet-points and then talk about what each one means. Fine, but don't put the bullet-points on the screen. Just talk. Tell the story you want your audience to engage with. 

Show instead of tell.

Slides shouldn't be the primary way you share the information. Instead, they should illustrate the point you're making. If the words you speak are the primary emphasis, whatever is on the screen should simply back it up and bring it to life. 

They're like the background music to your presentation, only they aren't music. They're just the background.

Sometimes that will be with words, but honestly, it's usually far more effective to show a photo or graphic. The first person I saw do this extremely well was Seth Godin. I remember being at one of the first Inbound conferences in August 2013 and thinking that the photos on the screen moved almost as quickly as he spoke, but it just worked.

People are far more likely to remember photos, and when they do, they'll remember what you were talking about. 

Of course, there are times when it makes sense to include words. My general rule, however, is that unless you're sharing a quote you shouldn't ever put more than 12 to 15 words on a slide.

Look at your audience, not your slides.

The biggest reason you shouldn't be reading your slides is that if you are, you're not looking at your audience. People won't connect with whatever story you are telling if they don't connect with you. When you stand on stage and look at the slides, they create a barrier between you and your audience. Instead of looking at each other, you're both looking at a screen.

That doesn't mean it isn't OK to take a quick glance to see where you are, but if you depend on your slides to remember what to say, you haven't prepared nearly enough. In fact, you should absolutely have rehearsed exactly what you're going to say enough times that it comes out without requiring much thought on your part.

That last part is important because once you're standing in the front of the room, or on the platform, there are a million things that will be racing through your brain. Make it a little easier by rehearsing until it's motor memory. 

That way you can look at your audience with confidence and tell them the story that will change their lives. 

Published on: Jun 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.