My efforts on the presentation front now extend to preparing a DVD course on Strategic Thinking for The Great Courses.
My ability to offer timely and valuable presentation advice in carefully prepared posts has been impaired, so in lieu of a regular post, brimming with the nectar of wisdom, I offer instead several happy snaps of our filming days.
I also offer the admonition that presenting well requires constant attention to detail and attention to the proverbial big picture.
The business presentation is an entirely different form of communication than a written document, and thats why you need a reliable PowerPoint Guide to get you through the rough waters of slide preparation.
For your presentation, do you ever throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout?
Guilty as charged? Most of us are at one point or another. The results can be heinous.
“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career. Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well. The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”
Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide.
Who says this is a bad idea? After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he? Well, I’m giving it to him. ’nuff said.
This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document, and this is an incredibly stupid mistake.
One . . . or the Other
Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.
The presentation – or show – is dramatically different than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later. Never let one serve in place of the other.
Prepare two separate documents if necessary, one to serve as your detailed written document, the other to serve as the basis for your show.
When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens: You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them. Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .” [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]
The results are often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing. It is a roadmap to disaster.
But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous. They don’t tell you what makes your creation an abomination. So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.
No Magic Pills
Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell. PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.
This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story. They bomb miserably.
On the other hand, you can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men. You cannot craft a winning film with no story or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.
Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show. They have no special properties.
Slides can enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it. Presenting coach Aileen Pincus makes this point in her 2008 book Presenting:
“Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”
So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?
Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides. Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies.
Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize
First, orient your audience to the overall financial context. If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience. Tell the audience they view a balance sheet. Walk to the screen and point to the information categories. Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”
Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about. If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.
Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers. You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.
When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen. You dump distractors that leech the strength and power from your presentation.
Consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with the zest that make it especially powerful.
Always prepare your presentation for your audience in ways that move them.
Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.
Always offer them your respect and your heart.
Does this seem obvious?
That’s the paradox. We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game. We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms. We say what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.
Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”
Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message. Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message.
A message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.
Why Prepare Your Presentation?
Paradoxically, this occurs quite often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees. Infused with the power, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.
They don’t prepare. They offer standard tropes.
They rattle off cliches, and they pull out shopworn blandishments . . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing. What he says and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.
But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt. Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often. The lack of preparation by any speaker communicates a kind contempt for the audience and for the time of people gathered to listen.
For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists. His idea was tremendously successful and, as I understood him, he sold it for millions.
Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup. He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines. What was his sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?
You Call That Good Advice?
“Make really good slides.”
That was it.
Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is. What does it truly mean? You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?
“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.
I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit. Likely as not, he developed a great idea, defined it sharply, and practiced many times. It was presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs, and this is what won the day.
And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by. He obviously did not prepare, but you should prepare your presentation.
So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful presenters if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned. We can gain much by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.
Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.
Don’t Prepare Your Presentation?
In business school, you sometimes espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness. It’s called “winging it.”
Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance. Or real nonchalance. It’s a form of defensiveness. This results in “winging it,” where contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude carries the day.
No preparation, no practice, no self-respect. Just embarrassment. Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.
This kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.”
It is obvious to everyone watching that you are “winging it.” Why would you waste our time this way? Why would you waste your own? You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.
Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.
The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart. Prepare your presentation, and you will always gain a measure of success.
Every person needs a life-preserver at some point during a speaking career.
At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble, and having this rescue device near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course, that is flirting with disaster.
It’s a quite simple device that can serve us well near the end of our talk.
When your talk is winding down and you feel yourself suddenly spent . . . When you begin to spiral out of control and cannot remember your train of thought . . . When your pulse quickens and your mind goes blank . . .
Grasp for two words.
“In conclusion . . .”
That’s it. Just two words.
I’ve tossed this rescue device out many times to students in trouble during a crumbling presentation.
These two words have rescued thousands of presenters before you, and they’ll rescue you as well. These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable in terms that a logical, reasonable person would believe.
As soon as you speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear. Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do.
You Know the Magic Words
You confidently tack on another phrase . . .
“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”
“In conclusion, our recommendation makes sense for reasons just given . . .”
“In conclusion, this means that . . .”
See how it works? How incredibly easy it is to get out of the sticky wicket of a talk spiraling out of control?
“In conclusion” leads you out of the wilderness and back onto your prepared path. It leads you to restate your thesis in concise manner and then . . .