Turn question slides into statement slides

Published (updated: ) in work, working in the open.

Photo by Ben Terrett

This is a tip I often suggest when I’m giving people feedback on draft presentations. I thought it might be useful for other people, so here you go.

In an effort to add structure to their presentations, I’ve seen quite a lot of people insert slides that ask a question.

They usually say something like:

  • “How did we do it?”
  • “What did we find out?”
  • “What happens next?”

… and so on. 

These feel good to the presenter during the writing phase, because they feel like natural intervals between one section of the presentation and the next. The questions that the presenter writes on each slide are the questions that they know cropped up, in roughly that order, during the project. So they make sense to the writer, while they’re writing.

But when slides like this are presented to an audience, they usually fall flat, for several reasons:

  • the questions that cropped up to you or your team during the work might not be the same as the questions that arise in your audience’s minds while you’re presenting; you shouldn’t assume as much
  • in almost every presentation I’ve seen that uses questions to break up the flow, the moment a question slide appears on screen, the presenter reads the question out loud, and the whole audience flinches with awkwardness
  • questions don’t give the audience any clue about where they are in the presentation; they’re not much good as a signal to the audience of how far through your presentation you are

A better choice is to turn your questions into statements that actually say something. The list at the top of this post might become 3 statements like:

  • We tried agile working for the first time
  • We found out that users were confused by step 2 in our process
  • We’ve started working on another iteration

Make the statements sum up the next thing you’re going to talk about. If you struggle to write them, try this method:

  1. Write the question slide you were going to write in the first place
  2. Now think about the first sentence you’d say out loud, after reading the question out loud to your audience
  3. Use that sentence on the slide, instead of the question

After you’ve gone through a few drafts of your presentation, you’ll have a short list of these statements. Use that list as a progress bar for your presentation. Early on, show the whole list and say “This is what I’m going to talk about;” then periodically return to that list as you go through the deck, and point to where you’ve got to. “We’re here. That way, your statements act as chapter headings and give the audience some idea of how soon you’ll be finished.