Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Presentation Tip: Three uses for a black slide

In a workshop last week in the Boston area a participant noticed that I effectively used black slides during the workshop and wanted to know more about how and when to use them. It is a topic I cover in the workshop, and in this article I will share with you what I told the group in Boston about using black slides.

The basic premise of a black slide is that there is nothing on the screen for the audience to look at. In the absence of a visual, where does the audience naturally look? At the presenter. Now, as the presenter, you have 100% of the audience’s attention. Nothing is distracting them from what you are about to say. That is quite powerful. So when should you use a black slide?

The first use follows from the focus that the audience will have just on you. Use a black slide when you want to tell a powerful story that illustrates your point. In my workshops, I demonstrate this use when I black the screen and tell a story about how the idea I have just shared with the participants helped in a real presentation situation. The audience is paying full attention to you when you tell the story.

In this first use of a black slide, you know exactly when the story will be told and you can create a black slide in your PowerPoint file. The easiest way to create a black slide is to add a new slide and draw a black rectangle to cover up the entire slide. This method is much easier than trying to change the background of the slide to black. It also will work when you copy this slide to another place in your presentation or even another presentation.

The second use for a black slide is not something you can plan for in advance. When someone asks a question during the presentation, should you leave the slide up or go to a black slide? The answer depends on whether the visual on the screen is relevant to the answer you are giving. If the visual is not related to the answer, go to a black slide. That way, the audience will focus only on the answer you are giving and not be distracted or confused by the visual that does not relate to the answer. How can you go to a black slide at any time during your presentation? Simply press the period key (.) in Slide Show mode. This acts as a toggle between the current slide and a black slide.

The third use for a black slide could be planned or could be spontaneous. Any time you want to move in the room and will walk through the beam of the projector, go to a black slide before you move. One of the most annoying things you can do is walk through the projected image or stand blocking part of it. If you want to move from one side of the room to the other, just go to a black slide, move across the room, then go back to the slide you want to speak about. If this is planned as part of your presentation, you can create a black slide at that spot in the presentation using the technique described above. If it is spontaneous, black out the slide using the period key described above.

There is no rule saying you always have to have a slide on the screen. When you want to focus the audience and not distract them with an image on the screen, use a planned or spontaneous black slide. Your presentation will be more effective when you do.


Blogger Charlie said...

The beauty of most presentation remotes is the "black slide" button, in my opinion. That function allows you to go to black in any of the situations you mentioned.

Good post, as usual, Dave. Thanks!

9:10 AM  
Blogger Craig Hadden - Remote Possibilities said...

I’ve tended to black out the screen just when answering questions, but I especially like your idea of also doing so when telling a story.

I’ve a couple of questions about some of the other points you make here, if you’re open to them.

Isn’t it quicker to change the background colour of the slide rather than draw a rectangle over it? For the former, you can right-click the slide and use just 5 clicks in all (if you choose black from the top row of theme colours). With the rectangle technique, I can only do it with a slightly unwieldy corner-to-corner drag across the slide, plus 6 other clicks.

Also, to black the screen without a black slide, I prefer to press “B” (because it’s easier to remember than pressing “.”).

(I wonder if it’s perhaps a Canadian habit to avoid the “B” key because (as John Zimmer points out) if the PC uses the French version of PowerPoint, “B” stands for “blanc” and will actually white out the screen instead?)

Mind you, the big plus of using a black slide (rather than simply blacking the screen) is that by default you go straight to the next slide after it, whereas with pressing “B” (or “.”) you always end up back on the previous slide afterwards.

I’ve come up with a few novel tips for using black slides, including being able to show one at any time, and yet not have them appear unless you want them to. I’d love to hear your thoughts on those.

Blacking the screen’s a fascinating topic – simple on the surface, yet quite complex underneath – and so few speakers use it.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Thanks for your comments. Let me reply to your questions in order.

I suggest the method of using a rectangle to create the black slide because of two reasons. First, many presenters are not familiar with how to change their corporate template (which is what they are doing by changing the background color), and may end up messing up the template. Second, when you copy a black slide to create a new one, the background gets reset and you have to start all over again. By using a rectangle, it copies the object and you still have the black slide.

You are correct thinking that using the period key over the B key is related to non-English situations. I have so many international readers that I need to use a more universal symbol that works in all languages. That's why I suggest the period key over the B key.

I read your suggestions about using the black slides and they will work for some presenters. Most of the corporate presenters I work with won't have the time to insert a black slide after every slide in their deck. It would also make it really awkward to read afterwards since many of the decks are sent by email to others who couldn't attend the meeting. If you are using a simple remote clicker, you won't likely have the H key programmed as one of the buttons, but you almost always have a button that presses the B or period key (depending on the model of remote). This makes it easier for the majority of presenters.

I agree that blanking the screen is something that many presenters could make better use of. It is always interesting that a number of participants in my workshops mention it each time. They notice when I use it and see immediately how effective it could be for their presentations.

Thanks for continuing the conversation and helping presenters improve their skills.


1:55 PM  
Blogger Craig Hadden - Remote Possibilities said...

Thanks for explaining.

Templates and themes aren’t very familiar to me, so I didn’t realise there was the chance of messing them up that way.

To get around the problem of the pasted slide taking on its old look again, I click the Paste Options button (which shows up by default at the bottom-right of the slide). Then duplicate the slide as many times as needed (Ctrl+Shift+D), which makes it stay black.

Perhaps the biggest issue in your reply was the long-raging war over whether to distribute slides afterwards. I know most people do that, but slides that make sense on their own tend to make a horrific presentation! If the slides make sense to a reader, then people will also read them during the slideshow, in which case the speaker’s just a redundant pest!

I’d say the best way to make a handout (or email-ready deck) is to write the speaker’s “script” in the notes area below the slides, make the slides themselves have almost no words (not even bullets), and save the notes pages to a PDF as the handout. That way, you can also use the relevant checkbox to exclude hidden slides.

It all takes a bit of extra time, but I think it's worth it because the results are far more usable.

What do you think?

6:43 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


The paste option you describe will work. The challenge sometimes is when you are copying slides from one presentation to another to save time. That technique will copy the entire slide master as well since it is copying with the source formatting. I like to keep a clean set of slide masters in each file so have found the black rectangle works for me. People reading this thread should know that both methods work, one just may work better for your situation.

In my work in corporate organizations, there is no debate about sending the deck after the presentation. It is a requirement in most organizations today, so the issue is how to best create a deck that works for both situations. Like you, I suggest getting the detailed backup information off the slide. My experience is that most people don't know the Slide Notes exist. Your solution of putting the detailed info in the Slide Notes and sending it as a PDF can work. The challenges are whether the presenter knows about the Slide Notes and the restrictions on how much and what type of content can go in the Slide Notes. Some people also prefer to send a PowerPoint file internally since the slides may get incorporated into another deck or used in another way.

This became such an issue in my clients this year that I wrote an e-book showing the technique that I suggest will work to satisfy both needs: the presentation and the e-mail version afterwards (here is the book link). I suggest that the presenter create hidden slides with the additional detail on them. Then, they can display that additional detail in the presentation if asked, and it is easy to see for people who get the deck later. The feedback I get from my clients on this idea is that they see how it can solve the problem they have in this area. It is another solution that can work for many corporate situations.


9:17 AM  
Blogger Craig Hadden - Remote Possibilities said...

More good points Dave. So thanks again.

Slides notes work best by clicking View > Notes Page. Then you can fit more in the notes than you can on the slide, and you can use all the same content types (drawings etc).

You’re right about sending the PowerPoint file, to let people reuse the slides. (I hadn’t thought of that.) A simple solution could just be to tell recipients to click View > Notes Page to see all the content. (If you send a PDF of the notes, though, you can view them full-screen, and you can drag a marquee to zoom in at will.)

There’s shocking “ignorance” of the programs people use daily (PPT, Word, Outlook, Adobe Reader, etc, etc). That’s partly due to lack of mental space, but it’s also due to lack of training – and how BAD most training is! (Trainers waste time telling people what they already know, and lecturing. But that’s a rant for another day :-) )

I don’t see lack of knowledge (about the slide notes) as an obstacle though. After all, most people don’t know you can hide slides, either. When most people don’t know about those features, the few people we tell get a real edge.

Your tip about using hidden detailed slides could sometimes be a good choice. One big plus is it’s easy, so it’s more likely to happen than making a PDF! Another is that you can show people the details instantly.

A drawback though is that it blurs the line of how much should go on those slides, so they might be unreadable. Someday, they’ll likely get unhidden and become regular content in someone’s deck. That’s pretty much the same problem as people using PowerPoint to write and present “reports”.

Anyway, as you suggest, I hope other readers get something from our thread. Thanks for hosting it!

9:56 AM  

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