How To Avoid Boring Presentations
Our ideas are only as good as how we communicate them.
Yet more often than not we bury our ideas within a thicket of slides, handouts and lifeless presentation. Avoiding these common mistakes will give even the most inexperienced of presenters a good chance of honouring their idea and communicating it effectively to an audience.
Killing ideas, one slide at a time
Mistake #1 - Too much information on too many slides
If I had a penny for every-time I had sat through a presentation smiling profusely and maintaining a possibly inappropriate amount of eye contact to let the presenter know that “it’s ok, we know this convoluted mess of slides, handouts and monotone narration doesn’t undermine your inner humanity”, well I’d probably have about £15.
PowerPoint presentations may not have actually killed anyone, but they’ve sure killed many an idea.
Often we assume the longer and more verbose our slide deck, the more credibility our idea will have. In reality, information heavy slides are hard to digest and send shudders down the spines of many design savvy onlookers (aka most Millennials…). Although loaded slides can act as a fallback for the presenter, they often just become a script, and when you are presenting from a script you are committing Death by Powerpoint.
Slides should be used sparingly. Not as a reference point for the minutia you may discuss, but as an anchor into context. Let me explain - While presenting the reasons why your organisation is the bomb, listing each reason on a slide will provide your audience with exactly that, a list. You know what people do with lists? They read them. You know what people aren’t doing while they’re reading lists? Listening to you.
Be Simple and Creative
If you’re dead set on using a slide to support your presentation, why not just make a slide that simply states “We are Different”, hell why not even just come straight out with it and write “We are the Bomb!” Every single member of your audience will be silently asking “Ok then, prove it!” And that, my friends, is an attentive audience.
While researching for this piece, I came across an anecdote about a Chris Bangle. Chris led design for BMW. Rather than relying on text heavy Powerpoint slides while presenting his ideas he would use hand-drawn stick figures and a few words. Chris explained he always presented with stick figures, whether at a board meeting or a factory. He said that stick figures forced him to really know what he was talking about, because he couldn’t hide behind a PowerPoint slide. Stick figures also guaranteed that everyone in the room would understand him. Here was one of the most influential design thinkers in the world, and he communicated with stick figures.
So less is more with your Powerpoint slides - You do not want your audience to be reading your presentation, you want them to be hanging on your every word.
The best way to distract a Westerner? Give them a piece of paper
Mistake #2 - Giving out handouts at the start of your presentation
In a previous life I worked with 6 year olds at a multi-cultural Primary School in New Zealand. The principal of the school valued the diversity of the community and often told stories of the things he had learned through his exposure to other cultures.
One anecdote in-particular stuck with me.
Through the many meetings he had with parents, he observed a striking difference between Somali families (they made up a large proportion of the cohort) and families of a European New Zealand background in their response to receiving a handout at the start of the meeting. The European New Zealand families would use the handout as a backbone for the meeting, reading intently and referring to the piece of paper often. The Somali family would pocket the handout, or simply leave it on the table, often neglecting to take it with them at the end of the meeting.
In neither situation did the handout enhance the meeting, and in one situation it actively limited the flexibility of the process.
I’m also reminded of how similar the European New Zealand family’s response to receiving a handout was to a 6-year-olds response. Never give a 6-year-old a piece of paper if you want them to listen to what you’re saying (or if you want the piece of paper to survive through your explanation of what it is for).
Before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, The Māori created a vibrant oral tradition with no written language whatsoever. Kōrero (a conversation, discussion, or meeting) would be long, winding events with many participants. Public speaking was not just celebrated, but lay at the heart of their culture. There were definitely no pre-kōrero handouts…
So check in with yourself during your preparation for a presentation. Is the handout really necessary? If the answer is yes, can you present the handout at the end of your presentation?
I’d rather Stephen Fry on Snitches and Hufflepuff
Mistake #3 - Reading from your slides or a script
By keeping your slides simple and reducing the amount of paper involved in your presentation, you are likely to avoid our final commonly made mistake - reading from a script.
Why would I want to listen to you read your presentation on blah blah blah when I can listen to Stephen Fry narrate on the Quidditch World Cup Final? There are a million and one things more interesting to listen to than a nervous presenter reading from a script - it can be lifeless and soul numbing for all involved. DO NOT READ FROM A SCRIPT.
There is one caveat here however…If you are feeling particularly nervous about presenting, it can be an effective technique to write a script and learn it by heart, to the point where you can present the script in a seemingly natural way. I remember doing this for a presentation in application for Post-Grad University entrance. I managed to learn the script to such an extent that I found myself regularly going off-piste like I was the most confident public speaker ever to have graced their premises.
For those standing at the front of the stage, presentations may be terrifying, but for those in the audience they can represent a blurry grey smudge of boredom, diluting possibly sensational ideas with a fog of apathy and confusion.
Avoid these 3 common mistakes and you will be well on your way to maybe even delivering a memorable presentation. Who knows, you may even find you enjoy yourself!
We recently helped Chris Mann (CEO) and Rob Sparkes (MD) of Matrix Networks prepare for a presentation in their quest to win the Specialist Contractor of the Year award 2019. We wait with baited breath to see the results!