Monday, 27 June 2011

Bad Presentations Are Not the Fault of PowerPoint

Ever sat through a bad presentation? Not sure what it was what about? Couldn't remember much about it when it was over?

Have you ever found your thoughts wandering ... maybe something like this ....

  • After the third slide, "His slides are just bulleted lists ..."
  • After the fourth slide, "He's just reading from the slides ...."
  • After the fifth slide, "There are a lot of words on each slide for him to read out ..."
  • By the sixth slide, "Oh no! I've just spotted that this is slide 6 of 45 ....argh!"
  • "Ok I got the message three slides ago, can we stop now? Please?"

Why does this happen? It's long been commonplace, almost fashionable, to blame it on PowerPoint.  Whilst PowerPoint has it's drawbacks, a bad presentation is really the fault of the person who plans it, designs it and delivers it.


Typical problems
  • What is this about?

Presenters sometimes tell the audience everything they know on a given subject but without making any clear points, reaching a  conclusion or identifying a call to action

  • Death by bullet points

The audience is taken through a series of slides containing little more than bulleted lists (this blog post makes use of bullet points as a reading aid, naturally)

  • Death by slides

There are just too many slides

  • The slides are the presenter's script

The presenter uses the slides as their auto cue - the content and format reflect this.  The audience are probably reading the slides and not listening.  Some don't even do this and just ask for the slides at the end

  • Failure to manage audience expectations

Some are so familiar with the bulleted list style of presentation that other approaches don't satisfy them

Some judge the value of the presentation by the scale and depth of the detail it contains

  • The audience is poorly prepared

Some have not had time (or not made time) to read the briefing document and want a presentation where the presenter "reads it out loud" for them

  • Poor visual design, themes and layout

Use of standard or garish and distracting templates and transitions 

Some Solutions
  • Make a clear point

What is the purpose of the presentation and what is the value to the audience - what do you want them to think do or say at the end?

Based on your analysis (see below) plan to tell them only those facts that help them get the point, understand the conclusion or know what is being asked of them

  • Analyse the audience

Before starting to plan the presentation, consider the audience:

  • What do they already know about the subject?
  • What is their need for detail, facts, figures, drawings?
  • What do they want - if they've read the report they may just want 10 minutes to ask questions so why prepare a 30 minute presentation?
  • What impression do you want to leave them with - of you and your credibility
  • What would make them want to sit through your presentation twice - or at least recommend it to others?
  • Separate the "script" from the supporting images

Plan the presentation, write the story board or script - then choose images and key words that reinforce what will be said, make these your slides

I've seen some excellent presentations that used a single visual aid

  • Less is more

Fewer slides with one or two messages per slide with strong visuals that help the audience get the point you are making and to remember it afterwards

If you use a slide it must support what you are saying at the point you say it

  • Brief the audience beforehand

Send a summary of the theme and key ideas together with the purpose and value of the presentation or meeting

Help the audience understand what they will get from the presentation and what they might be expected to do as a result

  • Anticipate the audience's lack of preparedness

Don't ask "Has everyone read the briefing the paper?", those who haven't won't embarrass themselves by saying no .... instead offer to run through the main ideas of the paper before starting the presentation

  • Meet the need for detail or technical material

Issue a paper or report beforehand, refer to it during the presentation

Hand out the paper or report at the start of the meeting or presentation - give people 5 or 10 minutes to review it, then reference it throughout the presentation

  • Do you really need PowerPoint at all?

And finally - having identified your objectives, analysed the audience's needs and planned what needs to be covered - and how, you might consider holding a different kind of meeting and maybe, just maybe, not even using technology at all .... just a thought.......


clip_image001There is a lot of material on this subject on the web. 

A good place to start is Edward Tufte's web site.




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