Should a Presenter Read from the Slides?

On our Facebook fan page ( we recently asked our fans to “name something that a presenter does (or doesn’t do) that distracts you from hearing/understanding the speaker’s message.”

Most of the responses had something to do with presenters reading their slides. While I agree that it’s distracting when someone lifelessly reads a slide full of long sentences or paragraphs, I disagree with the notion that one should never read what’s on the slide.

As I write this, I can almost hear your audible gasp.

Let me explain.

When a slide first comes up, it is second nature for people to look at it to grasp its meaning. At that moment if you start to talk, you would be pulling your listeners’ attention in two different directions. Are they to read the slide or are they to listen to you? Trying to be good audience members they’ll try to do both. And they will not fully succeed at either.

Conversely, as a presenter, you may not succeed because you will have lost control of their focus, which can lead to confusion.

So, as presenter then, you need to help them grasp your topic by directing their focus either to the slide or to what you’re saying. One easy and effective way of doing that is to read the slide when it first appears. Literally turn to it and read what’s there without any comment. (Yes, your back will be to the audience, but who cares? Your listeners are looking at your slide, not your bum.) Then turn from it, move closer to your audience and launch into what you have to say about what’s on the slide.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking that this won’t work. And you’d be right if the slide was full of text. That’s why it’s so important for slides to be pared down to the bare minimum.

Remember that the slides are not your presentation. You (and what you have to say) are the presentation. Use your slides not as a script but as a framework to keep your discussion orderly.

My colleague, Mary Clare Healy, has a video blog saying roughly the same thing.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP and Trainer at Turpin Communication

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