Text Slides vs. A Presentation Rant

Monday, December 6th, 2010 3 comments

Ellen Gustafson and Jamie OliverChalk and Cheese

I’m forever sensitive of the language used by presenters, and of the pitfalls of idioms and jargon when used inappropriately. But, more on this later. Here are two presenters who undoubtedly share something in common; the enthusiasm, drive, commitment and passion to have a positive contribution on healthy eating. Both have dramatically different presentations, and presentation skills. One of them I found to be easy to understand and remember, but the other was so ineffective that I couldn’t continue to view it after five minutes. How you deliver your message is pivotal to the successful transfer of information to motivate your audience to take action.

Obesity + Hunger = 1 Global Food Issue presented by Ellen Gustafson

Teach Every Child About Food presented by Jamie Oliver

Ellen’s presentation left me feeling exhausted, albeit that it only took five minutes to achieve this. I read a comment from another viewer which was very telling, “What I heard from her talk is that we have some kind of food problem.” This implies to me that the message didn’t get across, and wasn’t memorable. Yet it contained so many facts and data points. Why did I throw in the towel after a few minutes when I viewed it? Well, it was due to her delivery, and the visuals that Ellen used. The net result was that I could only remember one thing, and that was about her ‘Food bag’ project. And I can still see the visual she used in my working memory, as it is stored in my long term memory. A simple image with a good story, and well done Ellen.

Why was my recall so little? The first key reason is that she speaks far, far too quickly. Also, she didn’t allow for the fact that we cannot read and listen at the same time. I’m certain that you will recall times when you have been reading something and after a short while realize that you can’t remember what you’ve just read and had to read it again. Having an understanding of how the brain processes and retrieves information is critically important. This is why I coach presenters on techniques and skills to synchronise their narration with the visuals in order to passively engage working memory, for their message to make sense to the audience, and for it to be easily embedded in long term memory.

And then, she had all of those dreadful self-explanatory text-laden slides that are otherwise known as ‘Death by PowerPoint’. If you, for whatever reason, want your audience not to remember part of your presentation, then do what Ellen did. It’s guaranteed to work every time!

By contrast, at the end of Jamie’s presentation, the audience gave him a standing ovation. There are many reasons for this, and let me pull out a few that, if you apply to your presentations, will help your audience understand and remember your message. From the very beginning he had his audience engaged, and they remained so throughout the presentation. You will see this from the screen shots of the audience. He uses emphasis and pauses with his narration. He also makes it relevant, easy to understand and remember. I can recall many things from the visuals he used to support his story: the percentage cost of healthcare due to obesity; the un-healthiest State in the US; the town in the State where he has his success story; the healthy eating and cooking programmes; the amount of sugar consumed monthly by children at schools; the casket and the equipment needed for it. Jamie tells his story with passion and doesn’t shy away from the hard facts. You will experience how he cares and his belief in the solution to the avoidable crisis. His message is heartfelt and the emotion he displays has a marked effect upon engaging the audience, getting them to understand why change must happen and how to do so. And it is memorable.

And Jamie is a chef. So, yes, he does have a habit of quickly walking in all directions during his presentation. It reminded me of when I’ve seen his programmes on TV when he is dashing from one place of the kitchen to another. And so I’ll forgive him for this.

Now let me go back to the pitfalls of idioms and jargon. An Essex boy presenting to an American audience needs to be wary of saying, “I’m not slagging off”…”ducking and diving”…”geezer”! Was it a rant? Yes, it was. Did I “throw in the towel”? No. Was it effective? Definitely.  And, in comparison to Ellen’s presentation, was it dramatically different?

Absolutely, it was “chalk and cheese”!

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3 Comments to Text Slides vs. A Presentation Rant

  1. #1

    Keith Davis

    1:27 pm, December 11th, 2010

    Thanks for a great in-depth look at the two videos.

    Too much information delivered too quickly will kill a presentation every time.

    Pauses, humour, interest, passion will always score over lots of info every time.

    Keep the number of points to a number we can all remember and keep repeating them.

  2. #2

    Jessica Pyne

    2:16 pm, December 15th, 2010

    Thanks for the comment, Keith. Absolutely – too much information is an easy way to overload audiences, causing them to disengage. Simple, relevant content delivered in an effective manner will be much more successful in a presentation.

  3. #3


    12:42 pm, January 13th, 2011

    Aha !

    Well, now i know you have such strong views, I definitely won’t tell you where my talk is!