Presentation Tips that Suck
Not all presentation tips are good. In fact, some just plain suck. Here are a list of presentation tips that are best avoided…
Turn off the lights to use the projector. There was a time when projectors were so weak that without turning the lights off nobody could see the slides. Now, that’s not necessarily the case (except with the Pico Projector we reviewed recently). Turning the lights off makes note-taking hard, eye-contact harder, and staying alert hardest of all.
Slide titles should summarise the content of the slide. This allows the audience to grasp the point of a slide immediately. The problem is that if they think they understand the point of the slide before the presenter even starts to speak, they will disengage and not pay attention to the detail the presenter provides.
The management consultant’s version of this tip is that slide titles should link together so that somebody reading just the title of each slide would have read a prose summary of the entire presentation. This tip might make sense if you are sending slides to a busy executive to read – but tips that work for “PowerPoint documents” don’t work for presentations as they make the presenter unnecessary. If the presenter isn’t needed, presenting effectively becomes almost impossible. Need to send a presentation? Send a link to a web presentation instead.
Always maintain eye contact with the key audience members. Of course, no presenter should spend too long looking at the screen. But, used appropriately, breaking eye-contact with the audience and looking away can give the audience time to read, process, and think. When someone is looking at you, thinking is harder, as so much mental capacity is used in processing facial expressions.
A good presenter never turns his back on the audience. A more accurate piece of advice might be: “if you turn your back on the audience, it had better be for a good reason.” To engage with a truly seamless stream of audio and visual information (i.e. an effective presentation) it is necessary for the audience to switch their attention between you and the screen. They will take their cue from you, so if you want them to notice a build, watch it happen as you click. If you want them to read some text from your presentation, break eye contact and look at the screen (but don’t read aloud). This way of presenting gives the audience a cue so that they don’t miss anything important, and allows them to actually read, without having to block you out or feel rude by ignoring eye-contact.
Use handout view to produce leave behinds. If your slides make sense when they are printed as a leave-behind, they will also make sense when you are presenting them – even before you open your mouth. If your slides make sense when printed as handouts, they won’t be engaging when you come to present them. Instead, produce a separate document as a leave-behind – using your speaker notes as a starting point. Or, for greater impact, use online meeting software to record your presentation, and provide a link. That way you can control access, see who has viewed your recording, and make it harder for your competitors to get hold of your slides.
From Guy Kawasaki – the ‘10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint’ – ‘a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points’. Because Kawasaki is a well-known blogger and entrepreneur, this advice has gained a lot of exposure. And sure, following this presentation tip might give better results than using 100s of slides crammed full of ten-point text. But is this good advice for all presenters to follow? Not really. The number of slides in a presentation doesn’t mean much – it would be possible to animate a ten-hour presentation onto a single slide, or to use fifty slides in a short presentation. Likewise, just because venture capitalists can only concentrate for 20 minutes doesn’t mean that presentations should all be that short. It makes a lot of sense to use soft breaks in a longer presentation, but in fields like education and training, twenty minutes just might not be long enough. Don’t apply Kawasaki’s advice to areas it was never intended for.
Use one big image for each slide. This is a trend that started with Beyond Bullet Points, and was in many ways reinforced by Presentation Zen – two interesting books on writing and designing presentations. At m62, we love good PowerPoint design, and we hate bullet points. But is the answer replacing each set of bullet points with a stock photo? For a keynote address or speech, to provide a backdrop, this might make sense. Have anything complex to communicate? Need your audience to understand and remember your message? Use charts, diagrams, graphs, and animations – but not just one photo on each slide. Stock photos have a place, but can a picture of a healthy family really communicate the intricacies of a health insurance offering?
Use high-quality photos of people to build an emotional connection with your audience. Eliciting an emotional response involves your audience mulling over the picture for much longer than you can afford. We cannot help but be utterly engrossed by pictures of people – simply interpreting a facial expression uses most of our mental energy. For this reason, overuse of large, high quality pictures of people is just likely to make your audience drift off into irrelevant thoughts when they should really be listening to your point.
Use a script. This might make sense for a politician or CEO, for whom avoiding an uncomfortable soundbite on the evening news is essential. When presenting in a smaller setting however, using a script to present can serve as a block between presenter and audience, making the delivery sound stilted, stale, and boring. Use notes, rehearse key sections, but don’t just read aloud.
Agree? Disagree? Know about some other awful presentation tips you want to warn the world about? Write a note in the (moderated) comments, below.
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Edward Balchon of Malcolm Pirnie
We were delighted at the reaction we saw from prospects. To have a group of potential clients comment hugely positively on the difference between our presentation and the competition’s proved that a well designed and delivered presentation really is the difference between winning or losing a pitch.