How to present without presenting: send a slide doc

When I’m coaching people on their presentations, we usually spend a lot of time taking words off the slides. In a live presentation, the words come from you, not your slide deck.

But sometimes, your presentation needs to stand alone. If you aren't there to present your slides, you still want to be sure your message is clear.

“Just send me your slides in advance…”

For many business meetings, it’s common to circulate information in advance. It gives everyone time to think through the issues, so they come to the meeting ready to share their views.

Often, these information packs are slide decks. Half presentation, half report. Sketchy grammar, mystery diagrams and not quite enough information.

The result? Everyone arrives with feedback on their own interpretation. The author of the slides has to start over and explain what they really meant.

If you can’t be there, your words can

When you aren’t presenting your slides in person, you need to make a different kind of slide deck.

To make sure your message is clear, everything you want to say needs to be on the page. What you need is a document, not a deck.

You can still make it in PowerPoint - hence the term 'slide doc'.

Slide docs are printed or read on screen, rather than projected and read from a distance. So you can make the text as small as you would in a normal document - 12 point font is a good size.

Write in sentences, not snippets. In a presentation, it’s common to abbreviate things. The gaps don’t matter because you’re there to fill them in. If you write a slide doc like that, your reader has to fill the gaps for themself. It’s extra work that they don’t need to do. Make it easy on them and write everything out.

Lay it out like a document. Left align your text: centred text is hard to read. Arrange your text in blocks, fitting it around your charts and diagrams like a magazine.

There’s a reason newspapers use narrow columns: it’s faster to read. If you have a lot of text to put on one page, use several columns to make each block narrower. You can make several physical text blocks, or set a single text block to have several columns.

Use bullet points to highlight lists. Not every paragraph. If everything has a bullet, nothing stands out. PowerPoint loves a bullet, so watch out for it adding them in when you aren’t looking.

The fabulous thing about slide docs is the creativity you can apply to the layout. It's much easier to make sophisticated and stylish document than if you tried doing it in Word. If you want to learn more about slide doc design, take a look at SlideDocs by Nancy Duarte.

A slide doc makes a great handout

In my corporate job, we used PowerPoint for all kinds of documents. Status reports, financial reports, budget requests, project overviews, and client proposals. These are usually sent out before a meeting.

Slide docs also work well after a meeting or workshop. If you’ve given some training, people often ask for the slides to reference later. I go a step further and make a slide doc. I add notes, links and suggestions for further reading, to make the handout as helpful as I can.

But isn’t this loads of extra work?

Making a slide doc and a slide deck for the same meeting or workshop is a bit more effort. Many people try to save time by using the same slides for both.

Don’t. You’ll end up with a horrible presentation and a report or handout that no one understands.

If you need both, I suggest making the slide doc first. Then cut the text (or move it to the speaker notes) and enlarge the pictures and diagrams. Making a presentation from a slide doc is mostly about the delete key.

Do you use slide docs? What tips would you share?