The Blank Slide Shuffle

One morning, Scott Harrison, the CEO of Charity:Water, was giving a keynote speech. The auditorium was absolutely jammed. Everyone could feel he was in the groove, in the zone. But then, something went badly wrong.

Or at least I thought it did.

Midway through the talk, everything suddenly ground to a halt. Amid a story full of vivid, colorful imagery, the gigantic screen went blank.

Urrrrghhh. I felt myself cringe in discomfort. Where were the tech team?!

A thousand people’s attention went to the sole figure on the enormous stage.

But he didn’t even flinch.

It was no accident. No tech issue. The screen wasn’t blank - it was pitch black. A single black background marked the end of the chapter. More specifically it marked the nadir - the moment in the story where Scott Harrison hit rock bottom.

He used this simple technique to pull attention back, concentrating the entire room - before unspooling the visual story thread once more.

It was genius. I’d never seen anyone do it before.

In hindsight, it’s obvious. Many other forms of storytelling - books, movies, even albums - use a device like this.

But we rarely see it in presentations.

The blank slide can do all kinds of things:

  • Ramp up tension
  • Wipe the slate clean
  • Give the audience space to process
  • Offer you space to set up what’s next
  • Or simply refocus you - or whatever else you choose - at the centre

Next time you’re prepping a presentation, give it a try. You may even want to use it more than once (in moderation, of course…)

Oh, one last thing: The Blank Slide is a paradox.

It takes no time to design. But it also takes the longest time of all.

Keep exploring

Future of Learning
Upleveling the Case Study: How AI Augmented a Real-World Entrepreneurial Journey
We brought roleplaying challenges to Columbia Business School's MBA program...
Groove Theory
The Blank Slide Shuffle
How to use pitch black to great effect
Groove Theory
Understanding the Presentation Spectrum
Why most presentations shouldn't feel like TED talks
Groove Theory
Storytelling & Narrative: What's the difference?
It's subtle, but incredibly important
Groove Theory
What people really want from new technology
They don't want features, or even benefits. It's about something more human
Groove Theory
Christopher Nolan's 26 principles for creative work
And why it's worth being a jack of all trades
Groove Theory
Why David Marchese's skills remain underrated
How The New York Times journalist is able to go further than most