Reading vs Presenting Decks: What’s the Difference?

October 23, 2023


Common misconception: presentations should always have the same foundational principles.


Pyramid Principles

Not too much text on your slides!

The truth is, that while the logic is foundationally sound with all of the above, presentation strategy and design is far more nuanced than this.

In this article, we’re going to talk through the difference between a ‘reading’ vs ‘presenting’ deck and how you should think about each when creating your presentation (as well as which you should gear towards if possible). By the end of the article we hope you’ll have an additional way of thinking when setting up your future meetings and presentations.

First Off, What Are Reading and Presenting Decks?

Reading and presenting decks are terms we use to distinguish between the way your presentation will be shared.

Put simply, reading decks are decks that are sent to your audience for their own, async consumption, and are sometimes email-gated so you can monitor if and when they open the presentation.

Presenting decks, conversely, are slide presentations that will be used as an accompanying tool for you, to visualize and magnify your spoken presentation to your audience.

Needless to say, those are two tremendously different use cases, and as such should be treated differently when possible.

Why Do You Have to Care About This Difference?

With reading decks, you simply lack control:

  • You don’t control what time the person opens the email or clicks into your email gated page
  • You don’t have influence over how they’re feeling at the time
  • You don’t control the pacing that you move through the slides
  • You don’t even control the subtle framing that you can apply outside of your slides

So what does this all mean?

It means you need to control what you can control, especially with the assumption that you need to make your presentation both a) delightful for your audience and also b) thorough and logically structured, so your audience can easily follow your logic by themselves.

To distill the goal with reading decks:

  1. Get your audience excited
  2. Make it VERY easy for them to understand
  3. Leave them wanting more

So you may say, well, don’t presenting decks have similar goals?

To which we would answer: yes of course, they do. But how you go about it needs to be quite different.

With presenting decks, it’s a matter of controlling and maintaining attention. As a result: you want the attention on you, and so your design and content principles must adapt as the ‘use’ of the presentation is quite different. Whereas with reading decks the presentation needed to encapsulate everything so your reader could ‘self-serve’ while helping you achieve your goals, with presenting decks, you want to be the server…of information and humor and excitement that is. The presentation then is merely a visual prop with a bit of content to rapidly direct focus.

How To Approach Reading vs Presenting Decks

We’ve talked in a previous article about the importance of starting all presentations with a strawman. So when beginning to craft a presentation with a reading application in mind, start with the context that from headline (top of slide) to punchline (bottom of slide) to the following slides, you need to detail out the logic, and with emphasis on how you want that ‘reader flow’ to work. Said differently, make your slide have enough logic and depth so the reader moves in the right order and can process what they need to connect the dots and proceed to the next slide.

Conversely, when you’re starting with a presenting deck, you need to have more of an MVP mindset and almost think in the opposite manner. What are the absolutely necessary visual elements and descriptions that I need so the audience can quickly grab it from the screen and then put their attention back on me. Said differently: excite them, make it visually clear, and then bring them back (you can give them a full reading deck for their follow-on reading pleasure if you’d like as well).

Hybrid Decks

So what if you don’t have time or resources to create two separate decks for your audience? Is there a solution for this use case?

Introducing: the hybrid deck. Like it sounds, the hybrid deck is a blend of a reading deck and a presenting deck. While not perfect at either, the hybrid deck takes the minimalist design principles of a presenting deck but adds a bit of further elaboration to help your viewer along in case they’re reading the deck.

The result: some extra follow-on questions if you’re sending the presentation and a touch of extra distraction if you’re presenting the deck, but a totally suitable, respectful-of-your-time approach.


In this article we defined and contrasted both reading decks and presenting decks, and even introduced a hybridized approach for more time or resource-constrained people. As with all presentations, being very deliberate about everything you do and controlling the message should be your main focus. We’re hopeful that these definitions and strategy tips will help you the next time you’re planning out your presentation, leading to increasingly captivated audiences and further increasing the success you have with your business!

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