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Presentation is an art. It is theatre. It is a performance art. Like bad singing and bad acting, bad presentations are painful to endure. Unlike these first two,  its not determined by fate. It is a matter of being able to remember and internalize simple rules. Most of these rules are about preparing the presentation as opposed to what you do in it. We all have speaking voices, we all know how to talk. We have the raw ingredients to make world class presentations.

Having sat through three presentations last night, two of them average and one of them abysmal, and having watched enough good ones to know what makes them good, I share some general observations about presentations:

  1. People tend to shove all their information onto the slides. If the slides can convey all the information, what use is the presenter? Be SELECTIVE about what is on the slides. You can add a lot of content verbally.
  2. Good presenters use the slides to SUPPLEMENT the presentation. They  show off charts, graphs or amusing pictures or cartoons that help make their point better or more effectively. They do NOT copy out dull pages of texts.
  3. If you must include text – make sure its big and easy to read. If you have text up there you WANT people to read it. Make it possible. Large fonts, sans serifs, contrasting colors. Test it out if possible before hand.
  4. Backgrounds are not how you show off your sophistication. Complicated backgrounds cluttered with images DETRACT from the clarity of your presentation and makes people focus on the background as opposed to the FOREGROUND where their attention should be.
  5. Animations and sounds are the BANE of good presentations. Be sure that each one you include is absolutely essential. If in doubt, leave it out.
  6. Have speaking notes – slides are NOT notes. Try and think about what you’re going to say, what order you’ll present information in and what you can ignore on a slide, or which way you want the audience to interpret information on a slide that may be ambiguous.
  7. Do not repeat what’s on the slide. If you want them to read, you have to presume your audience is literate. Presuming they’re illiterate is the easy way to have a bored audience.
  8. Your voice is part of the presentation – use it!!! Change your tone, for emphasis, for clarity. People who speak with a monotone are the worse presenters. They sound like they don’t care about the material – and if you care don’t why should the audience?
  9. Talk at the WHOLE audience. Don’t stand to the side, don’t talk to one member, don’t focus on the lady in the middle. Look around, make everyone in the room interact with the presentation. 
  10. Ask for questions at the end. It shows confidence in your material and preparation and a willingness to engage with the audience. Answer the questions if you can. There’s nothing wrong with saying some one has asked a very good question and you can’t answer it.

If you want to see  this in action look at this presentation. It’s a classic case of turning what could be stunningly dull into interesting by the application of great presentation skills. Don’t focus on the content, focus on the presentation skill that is bought to bear on the content. Those can be universalized and used by all of us.

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One Comment

  1. For the record the content in that presentation was not boring but the use software to animate data certainly made it easier to absorb.

    I think powerpoint slides should be used very carefully, especially the bells and whistles. You really don’t want to have to compete with your slideshow for the audience’s attention.


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