Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Why do we have such a problem with presenting well?

Today I attended a large employee benefits conference in London. Unfortunately the organisers had made a few errors, such as an inefficient queuing system that made the sessions start late, conference rooms that were badly soundproofed and a lack of microphones to capture the questions from the audience.

Despite this, I was excited to listen to the presentations and hopefully maximise my day out. Overall it was an interesting day but I couldn’t help muttering inside my head about some of the poor presentation slides and skills that some of the speakers graced us with (however I do want to say that there were some very good speakers too!).

One of the presenters showed us their company’s history as a timeline. However, on this one slide there was at least 200wds of text! Although they had tried to break the text up with images and coloured text boxes it was still completely incomprehensible and ultimately just detracted from the message they were trying to get across to the audience. Most people know not to read off the screen but that doesn’t mean you can just write everything that you don’t say!

The second issue was more to do with the actual speakers. Now I don’t want to be precious but having been a member of toastmasters, I am used to counting “ums”, “ahs” and other crutch words ... and I had a field day today. I understand that many of the presenters were chosen more for their knowledge of employee benefits rather than their presentation skills but I was still disappointed. The problem is that these crutch words interrupt the flow of speech and are often very distracting (particularly for someone who is trained to pick them out!).

Today has prompted me to write a quick blog post about the things we should think about when presenting. I am not going to talk too much about how we speak when presenting as I covered this in a previous post. However, here are a few pointers when putting together presentation slides (whether using powerpoint, prezi, HTML5 etc).

  1. Your slides should not be the main focus – you are! Use it to add (not detract) to what you are saying and don't hide behind your presentation!
  2.  Use images! People find it difficult to read something on a screen whilst listening to what someone is saying – we are not very good at processing two bits of information at the same time
  3. Key points only – when you use words on a slide it should be to illustrate key points or facts and it should be short and snappy
  4. Keep your words to a minimum. You should really have no more than 33 words on a slide (and it will be better with less!)
  5. Make two versions. When talking to people about presentations they often tell me that the reason they put so much information on them is so that people can refer back to them at a later date and fully understand what was being said. If this is the case, do two versions; one for the actual presentation and one as a reminder of what was said
  6.  You don’t have to use powerpoint. Visual aids are used to add to a speech and sometimes powerpoint can be very restrictive. When we present we want to have a conversation with an audience and human conversation is not structured as rigidly as the traditional format of a powerpoint 

An example of a bad slide

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