Influence with Black Slides

May is PowerPoint abuse awareness month* and to kick it off, here’s the number one PowerPoint rule that can transform the way you present information to influence your listeners. (I’m using the blanket term PowerPoint throughout this post, but that encompasses any slide deck, like Apple Keynote, etc.)

Use black slides. It’s common knowledge that we’re dealing with serious PowerPoint abuse in business these days, but what do I mean? Slide decks that are used for in-person, spoken presentations are being relied on to BE the presentation itself, and we have become narrators. We project our notes up on the screen in bullet point form. This is not what PowerPoint was intended to do. We’re presenters, we’re giving a presentation, and our PowerPoint decks are visual aids. To use a deck effectively in a spoken presentation, the first thing you need to do is use black slides to transform your presentation experience.

What are black slides and how do I use them?

A black slide is a plain, simple slide with an all black background. No company watermark or master deck background.

To use them, first create your whole PowerPoint deck, and then insert a new plain, all black slide. Duplicate it a few times (Command D/Control D). Then, drag and drop them wherever you want to facilitate conversation, explain a concept in more detail, or transition to a new idea. You do not need to put a black slide in between every single slide in your deck, but use them to break up concepts. Here’s a visual example of what I mean (my notes in italicized red):

Why are black slides important?

1. Black slides clear the screen behind you.

Once you’re done with the picture, graph, or supporting information, you need to remove distraction by moving to a black slide. The black slide creates the illusion that the projector is off, and brings all eyes back to you, so you can influence your listeners. Simply put, you can walk in front of the projector without accidentally putting on a shadow puppet show. Almost all meeting rooms are poorly designed so that they have the projector screen right in the middle of the room or stage. It should be at the right or left, so YOU can be the center of your presentation, not your slides.

Move to a black slide and use that time to explain something in more depth, tell a story, facilitate some group conversation, or transition to a new idea. Steve Jobs understood this concept and used it in most every keynote he gave. Jobs knew that to influence, he needed to bring the focus back to him and use his slides as visual aids.

2. Planning with black slides totally changes your mindset.

Black slides make you think ahead about the flow of your presentation and your use of the deck.

From my experience, the majority of business presentations are poorly conceived, in that they are actually created in PowerPoint. It may be easier to go straight to the deck and start typing away, or pull in oldie-but-goodie slides, but it’s not effective. Decide what you want to say and map out your presentation first, then go through and decide where a slide visual will help support and amplify your points. Support could come in the form of simple graphs, pictures, video clips, and other SHARPs to bring memorability.

Every time I teach this concept toward the end of a training day, I ask my participants to estimate how many slides I’ve used all day. And every single time, the highest guess is no more than half of the slides I’ve actually presented. Participants are shocked when I show them my deck. Why? Because it didn’t feel like a PowerPoint heavy day due to the use of black slides. (And I use a lot! I’m talking nearly 150 slides!) My slides are simple and used to support my presentation, not BE my presentation.

3. Black slides help you avoid the “B button.”

Sometime people ask me, “Well, can’t the B button do all that?” Hitting “B” on your keyboard while in PowerPoint presentation mode will black out the screen, but it’s a second rate alternative to actually inserting a black slide.

When you want to move forward in your deck, you have to hit the B button again, showing the previous slide in order to move on. It’s jarring, especially if you’re far beyond that point, and can distract from the momentum of your talk. But, keep the B button in your presentation emergency tool kit, in case you’re in the middle of a talk and forgot to add an actual black slide.

Warnings:

  • Do not use black slides on webinars. We tried it and viewers thought their webinar programs were on the blink.
  • Do not email around your deck with black slides in it. If you need to send something around, first create your deck and save that version for emailing. Then save a duplicate and add in your black slides for live presentation only. As Garr Reynolds states so well, “slideuments” are a different story. For some deck emailing tips, read here.

Have you used black slides before? Let me know how it has gone, or if you have any questions on how to use them in the moment.

(*This may not be a nationally recognized holiday.. Ok, it’s not, but it should be! We’ll be sharing PowerPoint best practices all month to strengthen your game.)

5 comments on “Influence with Black Slides

  1. Ben – I love that you’ve been doing it for 12 years! I’m amazed more people don’t know about it, and more importantly – do it… Thanks for sharing. Always good to learn from teachers.

  2. I speak to high school students all across the country. Young people are all about visual variety. But if there is always an image or text on the screen, that is not variety. I’ve been inserting black slides between my content and movie clips for over 12 years and it is very effective.

  3. Nice advices. In general I expected the main part but also found new info – warning on webinars, comment on a number of slides etc.

  4. finally, someone else talking about the powers of the Black Slide. I’ve been preaching it for years and wrote about it in my new book, The Art of the Pitch. BTW, every time I read something by someone from the Decker organization, I agree. I’ve tried to contact you via your website, but to no avail. I dig you guys.

  5. GREAT Post, Ben.

    I use the “B” Button, probably, too many times, when I should insert Black Slides.

    I remember the first time I “Blanked” a Screen. It was amazing to watch the entire audience switch their
    attention from the screen to – ME!

    Thanks for the Post!