Use Black Slides Not Blank Slides

Inserting a black slide into your presentation

The more I see presentations, keynote speeches, and TED Talks, the more I am convinced of one thing: less is more.

Too many presenters and speakers use too many slides because they overlook a fundamental principle:

  • Every thing you say does not need the support of a slide.

Here is a second principle that will dramatically improve your effectiveness in the front of the room:

  • Slides serve the presenter. The presenter doesn’t serve the slides.

Don’t get me wrong, slides matter. But audiences need a break from slides and black slides give the audience that break. Black slides, not blank slides.

The Magic of Black Slides

Black slides essentially turn the projection screen blank. Blank slides will just show your template and look like you made a mistake.

Black slides are the visual version of a palette cleanser for the audience.

By inserting a black slide into your deck in a part that doesn’t need visual support, your presentation or talk becomes more visually interesting.

Screen shot of a PowerPoint

When the projection screen goes blank, the audience automatically turns its attention back to the speaker. The audience doesn’t need any direction. They make the move naturally and automatically.

Avoid Splitting the Audience

Notice in this example how audience members have their attention split. Some are looking at the speaker, some are looking at the screen.

Speaker at podium

A black slide unifies the audience because everyone turns his or her attention back to the speaker when the screen goes blank.

In this example, the presenter told a funny story about her mom sending her flowers and her cat eating the arrangement. The audience loved it. The slide is brilliant.

Ted Talk speaker talking about her cat

Then when the laughter subsided, the speaker went on to tell a deeply personal and moving story about suicide. But she still had the funny photo of the cat and the flowers on the screen after she had shifted the presentation to a very different direction.

A black slide while she was talking about a topic that was not humorous would have given the presenter the perfect transition from humor to despair.

Another way to turn the screen blank

Most remotes have a button that will turn the projection off and any laptop will turn the projection screen blank if you press the “B” key while the PowerPoint or Keynote are in presenter mode.

Arrow highlighting the B key on a laptop keyboard

The only downside with this technique is when you bring the screen back you are still on the same slide. So instead of moving the presentation forward you temporarily go back. Depending on the topic, this can have a jolting effect on the audience.

When to use a black slide

There are a few places where a black slide, or a blank projection screen work well:

  • When you want the audience’s full attention on you
  • When what your talking about doesn’t need visual support
  • When you are demonstrating something like how to use a piece of equipment
  • When you want to give the audience a visual break from watching a series of slides
  • When you want to shift the tempo or mood of the presentation

Your Slides + Black slides = Great Impact.

Use them both in your presentation or talk and you’ll help your audience to stay engaged, to follow you more easily, and to avoid projection screen fatigue.

Try it in your next presentation. Put a black slide in your deck. When you see the impact it has on your audience you’ll see first hand the power that black slides have and you’re audience won’t think you made a mistake the way it will if you just use a blank slide.

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