• Scott Stiefvater

What slides should (and should not) be designed to do.

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

In most cases, slides should be designed to work as visual aids for your listeners. They can also be designed to work as documents. They should NOT be designed to try to work as both.

The Document

You CAN use slideware like PowerPoint to design visual documents. I did it in the example above. My former boss and world-renowned communication expert, Nancy Duarte, calls them slidedocs. You might create a slidedoc to be used, for instance, as the basis for an informed conversation. The key is to avoid thinking of these slides as things to be displayed during a talk. They are in fact pages in a document – a document to be distributed for individuals to read.

The Slideument

Garr Reynolds, the great presentation guru, coined the term slideument to describe slides that live in the area between visual aids and documents. These slides are wordy. They are often used as cue cards by the presenter. They are often both distributed like a document and then displayed like a visual aid. As documents, the cryptic bulleted text is too vague to be of good use to the reader. As visual aids, the wordiness and density have a mind-numbing effect on the listener.

Slideuments fail because they make neither good visual aids nor good documents.

The Slideument Lite

The slideument lite is an attempt to make the slideument more palatable as a visual aid by employing fewer words. It may be less mind-numbing but it still typically detracts from a presentation by visually disconnecting listener from speaker without adding much value in the way a visual aid should.

The Visual Aid

Visual aids have two main purposes:

  • enhance the listeners' understanding of an idea

  • enhance the listeners' retention of an idea

The diagram above is meant to help listeners better understand and retain the idea of authenticity in a speaker. It's not designed to stand on its own. It is a visual AID. It is designed to be secondary to the speaker. These are the things that the vast majority of slides should be designed to do.

One thing is clear...

You simply can't ask a slide to do the work of both visual aid and document. So, decide whether you are making a visual aid to be displayed or a document to be distributed, and then design it accordingly. And remember, you, the presenter, are the most compelling visual in the room.


© 2021 by Scott Stiefvater,

(anti) Presentation Coach


Tel: 925-586-3517

San Francisco Bay Area


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