Presentations shouldn't start with Objectives slides?

I’m currently in a role that involves having to watch a lot of (powerpoint-assisted) presentations.

Often, after the initial Title slide, the next thing is one or more slides of Objectives. These are usually dense, bulleted lists that the presenter reads out.

And I don’t really get the point of them. You’re having a list of things thrown at you, many of which are meaningless to you prior to the presentation proper.
It doesn’t matter whether you listen to this part of the presentation, and often I notice an audience “zone out” through these slides.

I can only really think of two possible reasons for these slides, and they both don’t seem “worth it” to me:

1. So people can be sure that the presentation is the correct one for them
But I think it’s a reasonable assumption that the vast majority of your audience have a reasonable idea of what you’re about to serve up. And in any case, thanks to social niceties, it’s rare that people actually get up and leave in the middle of a presentation, so they’re stuck anyway.

2. So people can “tick off” things, and be sure you covered everything you were supposed to.
Ok, but what happens if you have forgotten to fulfil one of your objectives?

…or is there some other purpose I’ve missed?

I’m going to explain another possibility that you may not have considered.

One school of pedagogy insists that a well-ordered lesson plan should follow three main steps:

[ol][li]Tell them what you’re going to tell them[/li][li]Tell them[/li][li]Tell them what you told them[/ol][/li]
In this post, I’ve covered one other possibility that you may not have considered.

You can learn quite a bit from studying Steve Jobs’ presentations at Apple.

KneadToKnow: OK tell them what they’re about to learn.

The slides either side of “Objectives” are the Title slide, and the Introduction. Surely they are sufficient?

What is the benefit of an Objectives list?

Duckster: Some good advice. It sounds like Steve Jobs would be against a bulleted list of objectives.
As you may have guessed, I never use them in my own presentations, because I don’t see the point.

I like to open my coat and release six doves whenever I begin a presentation. Nobody ever complains about my objectives, let me tell you.

Mostly because they’re too busy wiping bird shit from their briefcases and laptops.

Chances are the objectives you are reading are poorly written. A good objective is usually expressed in behavioral terms- what you will be able to do that you couldn’t before you saw the presentation. They should be relatively simple. For example, a good objective might be:

By the end of this presentation, employees will
[li]Identify six situations involving form 407-B[/li][li]Fill out a practice form 407-B[/li][li]Recieve copies of form 407-B[/li][li]Discuss alternatives to form 407-B[/li][/ul]

Writing objective is more for the presenter than the audience. It helps you keep focus. But it’s probably a good idea to go over your objectives quickly with the audience, so that they understand what they are supposed to get out of this.

I help run a life insurance training organization at where we run a lot of live webinars, and we include one of these objective slides in each and every presentation. This is for a couple of reasons:

  1. It keeps me organized. I hate reading from a script so I usually use the slides as my only source of notes for the broadcast. We usually do at least one of these things, sometimes two, every day, and that slide puts me on track.

  2. We try to keep our longest webinars to 30 minutes. Some topics we go over cannot be completely covered in 30 minutes. The objective slide clearly spells out what will and won’t be covered at the get go, so if someone came in hoping for a very specific nugget of info they can get back out right away. For instance, today we discussed universal life insurance, but didn’t go over variable universal life. The objectives slide made that clear up front.

  3. Half an hour talking about life insurance can be boring. Showing the objectives and structure can let our agents kinda zone out until we get to the part they care about. To use today’s webinar as an example again, if you only cared about using universal life to fund nonqualified plans then you could turn the speakers down for the first twenty minutes and tune back in for the last ten.

  4. It gets everyone in the mood to shut up and listen. It’s almost a “Meeting Ritual,” and it puts everyone in the zone. It sets the expectations that people will stop chattering, start paying attention, and start formulating questions.

The Objective of my Post is to Tell You that Poorly Done Presentations are Redundant

Poorly Done Presentations are Redundant

Conclusion: Poorly Done Presentations are Redundant

There’s something very familiar about that bit.

I like to think of the “Objectives” as being like the “Contents”; ie “This is what we’re going to cover and why you should give a shit”.

This post brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

It’s almost as if PowerPoint was the death of actual public speaking or something.

I like this reason, in particular.

The Objectives slide is basically a “Warning: Presentation starting in T minus 10 seconds”.

In my own presentations, I tend to just make sure I’ve got eye contact with everyone before I start. But then, I’ve never needed to do a presentation for more than 20 or so people. A start ritual could be very useful for larger groups.

Or you could, you know, say “Good morning!” Seriously, if your slides are more important than your speech you’re doing it wrong.

Yeah, obviously we mean as well as doing that.

I’m not suggesting that just because I have eye contact with everyone, the first words out my mouth will be presentation material.

PowerPoint is designed to push people to make slides that are useless and boring. Jobs is using the right technique (which I blogged about a year and a half ago):

  1. Each slide’s heading is a sentence describing the concept.
  2. Below this, you put an illustrative example. This can be a graphic, picture, etc.
  3. If you need further explanation, use no more than one or two bullet points. If you need more, then create a new slide.

The slides should be thought of as illustrations for your talk (like illustrations in a book).

This method has many advantages:

  1. Since the material is presented one piece at a time, people remember it better.
  2. The illustrative example also helps people remember. Seeing an example is much better than hearing about it.
  3. The people will listen to what you’re saying as you elaborate on the concept, not be concentrating on reading the bullet points.
  4. It is far less boring that hearing someone read bullet points.

The very worst PowerPoint is when someone reads the bullet points (except as a sleep aid). The people will be ahead of you as they read, and if you’re giving them the same information as they read, they quickly tune you out. If you have to use bullet points, use the old 6x6 rule – no more than six bullets with no more than six words in each. And instead of reading the points, you elaborate on them (but this is not as good at the “sentence and example” method).

There’s nothing wrong with stating your objectives, if you do it right. But “bulleted lists that the presenter reads out” is doing it wrong.

I used to teach presentation skills at a big company and this is very good advice.

If I were allowed to say only one sentence for presentation training it would be, “The slides are not the presentation, *you *are the presentation and the slides are just decoration.”

Edward Tufte, the wizard of how to present information, is famously critical of PowerPoint, such as in this essay. However, IMHO PowerPoint takes the fall for unimaginative, ineffective presenters.

The Three T’s are a classic presentation/teaching technique, and for good reason. Setting the stage for your talk is important to listeners and for you – it sets expectations and readies the listeners to receive the information.

HOWEVER that still doesn’t mean that slides in a presentation need to be a word-for-word script. The technique that RealityChuck posted about is presented very well, with lots of research-based backup, in the book Beyond Bullet Points. I always understood the rules about keeping the text density low on slides, but this technique is something else again. I switched to it about a year and a half ago and the transition was difficult, let me tell you. You really have to read the whole book and let it sit with you a while and practice it to fully grok it. Still, I feel it’s really livened up my presentations, which weren’t awful to begin with. The book even covers the technical points on how to give a presentation and show only your fab slides while still seeing your script/detailed notes (which you’ve put in the Notes section of the slide) on the computer itself. Win-Win.

Some people will argue they put a lot of text on their slides because they are needed as handouts or will be posted later for reference, etc. You can still have a minimal-text presentation and put your script and details in the Notes section.

If you MUST MUST MUST use bullet points, etc. then there are a lot of rules-of-thumb people have come up with. For me, if I got to the point where I was having to make the bulleted text less than about 22pts to get it to all fit, that meant there was too much text (and even that was pushing it). You want KEY WORDS AND TERMS only, not full sentences or, heaven help, paragraphs. You are talking and you will fill in the verbage, you only need the words to serve as anchors.

Tufte has a nice screed against the horrors of PowerPoint.

stupid board ate my edits

Missed the earlier Tufte links.

Per my stupid board eaten edits, there are two big problems with PP abuse:

Forced linear narrative, and


PP can be good for simple, linear narrative, but comlexity and nonlinearity blow PP out.