"Look Ma, no slides!": The Art of Speaking Without Slides

Bored cat

Bored cat

Last night, I gave a talk at Cambridge Mobile Apps Group (yeah, it’s a mouthful, I know!) about marketing your own app with no budget.

When I arrived at the venue, Tony, the event host, shot over to say hi. With a slightly concerned look on his face, he told me that the room our event was meant to be hosted in was mid-renovation so I had no projector or screen for my talk.

After mentally skimming through my slides, I reared up for the challenge and decided to see how my talk would go without my 45 carefully crafted slides. Sure, I’d avoided death by Powerpoint by following every Presentation Zen recommendation and the slides were bright, colourful and even contained the requisite kitten picture. Would they be missed?

The outcome was better than I could’ve hoped for. I had more fun than I’ve ever had giving this talk to a crowded room of 30 or so curious geeks*. Rather than giving a presentation, I could become a storyteller.

By only glancing at my computer every so often to check I was still on track, I could actually connect with the audience and have a conversation. The questions at the end were great and the feedback confirmed that the informal style had suited the occasion.

So what’s the moral of this story?

If you can, try to give talks with little or no slides when you’re telling a story you know well. I was talking about the growth of Alfred over the past 18 months, which is something I’ve lived; blood, sweat and tears.

By spending more time looking at your audience, you can gauge whether they’re enthralled or bored out of their mind. Embrace the lack of technology for a change, take a deep breath and have fun.

It takes practice and it’s important to learn not to get lost in waffle and anecdotes (I’m still working on that one…) It certainly doesn’t mean that you should “wing it” and not prepare your presentation; your talk should have structure and a storyline, but the slides no longer become a crutch you rely on to get through your points.

Last week, I attended Ampersand conference in Brighton and some of the talks were downright fantastic. In particular, Jason Santa Maria and Mark Boulton, two speakers who used slides, but were also enthusiastic, passionate storytellers who pulled us right in.

Storytelling is a skill worth developing so next time, try dropping the slides.

[* I use geek in the nicest, most friendly sense as I consider myself one too, of course!]