Monday, January 20, 2014
How to (not) make presentations
I became a fan of presentations from the time office automation tools came into existence a couple of decades back. It was exciting to be able to put together slides so quickly when compared to the earlier chore of writing everything on transparencies with permanent markers or sketch pens only to realize that any change required the entire slide to be recreated. Later, I could print my slides using inkjet printers or laser printers if I was careful of the sheet quality. They looked better than the handwritten stuff.
The advent of projectors changed the paradigm again though initial quality was far removed from the current high definition displays, the software evolution provided the bells and the whistles which people used effectively and ridiculously depending on their fancy. Soon presentations became the standard way to conduct a meeting. And with the ability to add loads of text, images, animation, transitions, charts, videos, and what have you, the presentation puts an Oscar winning director to shame.
Then why is it that now the general reaction to presentations is far from enthusiastic ? Why have they become torturous to sit through ? It does not matter where the presentation is, what the subject is, and in many cases who is presenting (conditions apply); they have reached the limits of endurance for a normal person. Every time you see someone on the stage or in a meeting opening up his/her slide deck, an audible groan emanates the room. Having been subjected to zillions, I have kind of become an expert on analysing grueling presentations.
Here are some quotes that bad presenters use during their time in front of their audience:
1. I know it is a busy slide, but let me ….
2. I think the people in the back may not be able to see clearly …
3. I believe that the font is a bit small for you to read …
4. The color combination is not how it appears on the screen …
5. Let me skip some of these slides in the interest of time …
Now I am sure if they made the slides themselves, they knew the lacunae to begin with; then why did they go ahead with not clearing the slide or making it visible or for that matter reduce the number of slides to fit the available time. What were they thinking when they allowed the above to happen ? Is the audience going to sleep through the time or that the audience is too dumb to notice the difference. Glaring at the laptop screen or turning the back to the audience and playing with the laser pointer on the large screen is another irritating trait.
If they did not create the slides, then it gets worse as they have no clue what the content is about or what is coming up next. They just read the bullets and get off the stage quickly. This happens a lot of times in conferences and events where the original senior presenter decides his/her priorities lie elsewhere and passes on the mantle to a junior colleague thereby insulting the senior audience as well as creating a situation that the time, effort and money spent by his/her company is totally fruitless and a waste of time for everyone.
Coming to the exceptions where the audience is in rapt attention and soaking in every word with their eyes glued on the person in front of them, what has changed ? In most cases there are no slides, or just a few pretty looking pictures, or clearly visible few words or bullets that convey a thought or a clear message that connects with the listeners. The body language is confident, their tone of voice crisp and clearly articulated, their eyes connected with every person in the audience, their mastery of the subject clear, and their passion visible.
Is it difficult to make the transition ? For many the answer would be yes as they do not understand the impact they create on the audience. Those who seek feedback or are able to perceive the connect with their subjects do improve over time with practice. Keep it simple, rehearse the presentation many times, have someone listen to you present before the D-day. Don’t use the slides as a crutch, work upon the subject and research it thoroughly. Those who stumble through the motions because they were pushed on stage will need to conquer stage and content fright.