Presentation Pitfalls #7: Slide synch (or lack of)

“And the winner is…” called the presenter as he carefully opened the ceremonial envelope. The huge room was filled with silent yet eager anticipation.

He then paused, wondering why everyone was suddenly talking, laughing and groaning, then dutifully took the card from the envelope, and read out the winner’s name.

What could have gone wrong? Slide synch, that’s what.

While the speaker was fiddling with his envelope, someone else advanced the slides too quickly, and revealed the winner’s name to all but the speaker before the envelope had even been opened. Doh! Not only did this make the speaker look silly, it made everyone think less of the organization of the event, both for the Powerpoint slip-up and for even using ceremonial envelopes when the winners were already on the slides.

This actually happened at a government business awards ceremony in France in June. It was the worst of many Powerpoint transgressions that evening. I felt like finding whoever created all the terrible, cluttered and ugly slides and slapping him around the face with a copy of Presentation Zen. But I am not a violent man (it’s a fairly heavy book, after all), and I remembered something Biblical telling me to forgive them their sins for they know not what they do. It’s certain they didn’t have a clue what they were doing.

Anyhow, what went wrong? The slides weren’t properly in synch with the talk. This can be a very difficult thing to get right if you have to advance the slides for someone else.

I have done this on two occasions. Once, I was advancing the slides for the Procter & Gamble leadership team as they were making presentations to the European Workers Council. This worked well, not only because I had created the slides myself, but also because everything was read from a script (since everything was being simultaneously translated, and the interpreters find it easier to translate from a script), and I had ensured the slide transitions were properly written into the script.

The other time was more recently, where I was advancing the slides for a customer who had not had time to rehearse, and where there was only an outline of the presentation, not a script. This worked reasonably well, but could have been better and more natural. I had created the slides and the outline and knew the subject well, and I was paying close attention – and I’m a presentation pro. If I can’t get it spot-on in those circumstances, there’s a good chance many people will end up being at least slightly out of synch, and slides which advance at just slightly the wrong time don’t look very professional.

I have two pieces of advice to avoid this kind of situation completely.

  1. Advance your own slides, using a clicker / laser-pointer  – a hand-held widget with buttons to advance and reverse the slides, often a laser pointer, and often a useful button to switch off the projection (like hitting “B” in Powerpoint). Insist on this. Nobody can get the timing right and control things better than you can. This way, if you need to adjust the order or skip slides, it’s easy to do so – you don’t have to call out “can you please skip the next two slides?” which sounds extremely poor.
  2. If you can’t advance your own slides, don’t use slides at all. Seriously. It’s just not worth the risk.

Someone at that government awards ceremony didn’t take this advice, and sadly at the end of the show, everyone was talking not about the great companies who won awards, but about the cock-up in the slide synch. Is that the impression you want to leave at your next presentation?

3 Responses to Presentation Pitfalls #7: Slide synch (or lack of)

  1. You can probably hear my “Amen” from here…..! 🙂

    Something I’ve done on these occasions is double up the slide before the ‘reveal’ slide, so that if someone’s hand does slip too early, all it does is move to another copy of the ‘and the winner is’ slide.

    It takes two clicks to move the slides on.

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Thanks Simon – indeed if you do get stuck in a situation where someone else is controlling the slides (which really you should take pains to avoid), this is a useful tip to avoid an accidental advance of slides.


  2. […] Presents — Presentation Pitfalls #7: Slide synch (or lack of) While the speaker was fiddling with his envelope, someone else advanced the slides too quickly, and […]

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