Ever heard of Death by Powerpoint? Even if you have not, you probably have sat in on presentations where the presenter uses presentation slides more to remind himself of the things he wanted to say than to help you understand his message. To me, the worst version of this is when each slide is packed with words in small font, and they are read off the slides by the presenter.
But slides can be quite useful and help your audience stay engaged. In a virtual meeting, slides can serve a number of purposes:
1. Slides can serve to engage your audience
Just as in in-person meetings, slides can be very useful virtual meetings to illustrate a point you are making. You can use images or diagrams to visualize complex ideas, solicit an emotional response from your audience, or give orientation – how was that argument connected to the theoretical framework we are discussing?
This is particularly important in a virtual setting because, in contrast to a in-person presentation, you cannot connect to your audience through your body language and it is more difficult to pick up their mood. Visually well-done slides are like an additional communication channel that (hopefully) supports the words you are uttering.
2. Slides can serve to record a discussion
In many web-conference tools you do not only have the option to share your screen or show slides, but you can open whiteboards or annotate the slides directly. This means, you can open a whiteboard, or build empty slides into your presentation at those points on your presentation, when you want inputs from your audience and document what they are saying right there and then.
This way everyone sees in writing what is being said, can assess whether they have the same understanding of the discussion as the rest of the participants, add points that are being forgotten and even object during the discussion instead of 2 weeks after the meeting when the minutes are circulated.
3. Slides can serve to structure a meeting
In virtual meetings, it is easy to get distracted. After all, who will know if I respond to that email that just came in. Even if I want to pay attention, there are many distractions that I cannot switch off easily, for example, a colleague storming into my office with an important question. By the time I told him that I am in a meeting, and he leaves, I already missed a chunk of what’s been said and it will take me a few minutes to find my way back into the discussion.
As a presenter, or meeting facilitator, you can make it easier for people to stay attentive by providing a visible structure on slides. Use the slides to show where in the meeting agenda you are, and what you will be doing in each step. We call these the process slides as opposed to the content slides of a presentation. This way your audience will always know what you are talking about and if their attention is puled way it will be easy for them to find back into your discussion or presentation.
Are you using your meeting tool’s features?
All 3 ways to use slides in a virtual meeting, require you to get acquainted with your meeting tool. Can you upload slides? Can you share your screen? Can you annotate? Are there whiteboards? Do you know how to access these features? Who can use them? Just you as the presenter, or all participants?
Start, by testing your tool with a couple of colleagues, and then design your slides depending on the possibilities you have uncovered and the results you want to achieve in your meeting or presentation.