Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dirty secrets on your usb stick

I've been to a few presentations recently where the presenters have gone on stage to upload their presentation to the podium laptop. They innocently pop in their usb stick (or connect their mac) and the full stick is displayed on the laptop screen. And often on the main stage presentation screen. Sometimes with the whole audience there, watching.

You probably don't think about it because all you want is for the IT guy to get your particular presentation from its safe little burrow onto the main screen. So you or he dig down through various folders to get to presentation.ppt and there you go. Sorted. "Ladies and Gentlemen..."

The audience however are clear that this presentation is for

"That crappy meeting in London"

They may have noticed the random .jpg of  "the naked surgeon"

It's possible your boss may have questions about "fifteenth audit of that useless paper" OR that you appear to be applying for a job in London.

The panto? Really? Is that what you want us to see before your big scientific talk? Or your opinion on Jones and his career.

Presentation ninja trick; a brand new usb stick, just for this conference. Mac users, sanitise your desktop.

About that naked surgeon...

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

In actual fact

One of my father’s dear friends used to say, “in actual fact,” a lot. In actual fact, he would say, in actual fact probably every paragraph, more in actual fact. He confessed himself that he felt unable, in actual fact, to stop saying it. Sadly he died a few years ago and at his funeral, a dear friend stood to give the eulogy. “In actual fact,” he began and everyone smiled, fondly remembering John.

We say filling words when we are nervous. The commonest place to be nervous, in actual fact, is whilst presenting (p3). The audience recognise that the words themselves, in actual fact, are not integral to the story but they do distract, in actual fact, from the clarity of the presentation (p cubed). In actual fact they do this by adding to the “noise” of the presentation and this distracts from the signal, in actual fact.

One of the first steps is recognising that we have our own filling words; um, ah, err, like, okay, you know, obviously, going forward, basically, etc, in actual fact. The difficulty however, in actual fact, is that we are often not aware of them. It takes gentle but effective feedback from a supportive colleague for this to become clear, in actual fact. The best means then of reduction is to quantify, in actual fact, just how many times you use those filling words within a time frame or practice presentation. Once you are aware that, in actual fact you have said that sixteen times some far, you can begin to address the problem. In actual fact (17) it then becomes a personal irritant that you hear yourself doing it and you will improve. When you need to say it, just don't. Your presentation won't lose anything, it will improve.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Presentations fail because even more science.

You don't even read the slides you are reading. Part of your brain soon recognises that it isn't possible to read a whole slide and that the important information is contained in the title. The bigger bulletpoints contain something of value with the least important information at the bottom. Consequently we scan a slide looking for the important data. This is known as F-scanning. Scientific studies using eye tracking devices reveal how this occurs. The end result is that not all the data is read.

The science shows that even all the effort put into reading and not listening goes to waste as not all the information is "downloaded". Presentations fail because science. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Presentations fail because science (2)

Presentations as they are routinely delivered fail because they break well established scientific principles.

There are numerous studies that have compared student responses to a lecture given with identical audio tracks (p1) but comparing the standard "powerpoint" slides full of text with illustrative, supportive media (p2). The students were assessed using multiple choice questions at 4 weeks and then by essay type questions at 6 weeks. Each shows statistically significant results in favour of the illustrative approach over the annotative. A further study shows even more damning evidence for the bulletpoint approach in that a lecture given with no slides was better than a lecture given with bulletpoints.

The response of many to such statements is a defence of the standard approach. Partly this is because we are recognising that the majority of our education was delivered this way and we deliver the same. Many point out that they take notes and that this helps them to concentrate. I would refer them back to the previous post.

The evidence is clear, presentations fail because science.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Guest blog- presenting with owls, not text.

I'm very pleased to offer another guest post on the blog, this time from Dr Simon Saunders @Novomix30 on his experience of improving his presentations.

"I had been following @ffolliet and his p3 blog posts for quite some time, interested in what he was saying about how presentations could be different. I, for one, have sat through many “power point” talks which have just been the presenter reading the slides to the audience. I would never quite accuse myself of that, but at times I have relied – or thought I needed to rely – on slides with detail for the audience.

There must be a better way to communicate ideas and information.

So, I decided to make the leap. I was due to present at a Primary Care PLT event (protected learning time), giving an update on diabetes, this was my leap.

I had previously had text based slides which included all the information I was due to present. I thought about how best to tell this story without words, only illustrated with pictures which would prompt me and engage the audience. So I changed 30 slides of text and graphs into 15 slides of pictures. And off I went.

This was my first time doing such a presentation, but I decided to let the audience know this.

Was it easy? Did it work?

It wasn’t hard, but it required me to concentrate on where I was and what I was saying; I guess this is important when you are trying to communicate something! It was, however, enjoyable. It allowed a dialogue between the audience and me. It allowed us to move to related areas. The audience were engaged and involved. The talk ran to time, we covered all the areas I wished to speak about and the interaction was excellent.

Feedback was instant, many audience members came over at the end to say that they felt it was great to be involved and that as there was nothing for them to read- or not as the case may be- they listened and understood.

So, for me, I’m converted. Yes it takes thought and a knowledge of the subject matter. It has to make sense and progress in a way people can follow but it certainly more rewarding from a presenter’s viewpoint. Read the blog, make the leap and involve the owls!"

Friday, 28 November 2014

Presentations fail because science

There is a feeling that this improved approach to presentation is principally about style. No, it is principally about science. The reason that the majority of presentations fail is because, by their construction and delivery, they break well established scientific principles of human communication.

The first and simplest of these is described as cognitive load. That is the inability of the brain to do many things at the same time. The majority of presentations are text based and a literate human can only make sense of text by reading. If you see text, you will read it. Intriguingly, even once you have read it you will keep returning to read it again. 

Listening whilst reading is a challenge, particularly as the audience can read faster than a presenter can speak. Consequently, the listening will be to different words than are being read. If one then attempts to write, whilst listening and reading, it is clear that efficiency of all of these tasks is falling. Worst of all, this leaves no space to think. The brain choses to concentrate on one task and we default to reading.

Consider, if you are studying, would you do this and carry on a conversation or watch tv? If you are asking for directions and writing them down, do you discuss the restaurant you are trying to find or concentrate on the task? If you are following complex instructions, do you ever turn down background music? If something challenging is going on, don’t you ask for quiet?

Our brain may be complex but we can’t read, listen, write and think all at the same time. The reasons many presentations fail is because science.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The practice of presentations.
The 5th P in Presentation is for Practice. It is, of course, the most important. The astute or grammarians amongst you will have noticed that this is the noun version of the word, not the verb. The practice of presentations is the continuing study and improvement of the nature and construction and delivery of presentations. The first presentation you give will not be your best. Your biggest presentation to date could still be improved upon. The worst presentation you have sat through can still offers inspiration and ideas for future presentations. Practice is the process of continuing to deliver presentations improving by repetition, reflection and consolidation.

For most of us, getting off the stage and out of the spotlight represents just a huge relief and the end of our engagement with the process of presentations. We have little requirement or desire for feedback and the only reflection that is carried out tends to be fleeting and self critical. To improve your presentation skills, it is important, at some point, to sensibly consider your whole presentation (p cubed). 

Formal feedback from the organisers may be supplied at a later date and will be of some value in personal reflection. Remember that it is the audience who define value. It is important that we step beyond the "thank you I very much enjoyed your presentation" to a structured assessment of the presentation in its composite parts (p1, p2 and p3) as well as its overall value (p cubed). Consider what you know went well and why you know this, what felt stilted and forced, what might you have done differently if you had the chance again, what did you learn after your delivery that you might have used had you known. This is not about criticism but critique, this is the practice of presentations.