Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Greatest Presentation in the World (tribute)

As titles of talks go, that is something to live up to. I was privileged to speak recently at a big conference and THAT was the title of the talk they asked me to give; no pressure eh? The reality though is that the next presentation YOU give should be the Greatest Presentation in YOUR world. There is no point giving it if you don't consider that an achievable option.

Realistically no one should consider standing up to give a presentation unless it is as good as you possibly can make it. It takes time in preparation and practise and ultimately it is what the audience deserve whether they are a small group for teaching or an international conference at which you are the Keynote speaker.Your presentation should be better than the last one you gave and build on all your insights and experience to deliver what will be The Greatest Presentation in your world. Why ever not?

Some presenters feel they are not good enough, that others are more gifted, that they don't have enough time or that they would just be happy to be mediocre. Why not start off your presentation with that phrase and see how the audience react?  Your presentation may not match up to some you have seen but if it is an improvement on your last surely that is an achievable goal? Why not aim for greatness and deliver the Greatest Presentation in Your World.

How one achieves such lofty heights is down to the individual but the maths of p cubed would suggest that even small improvements will bring about significant changes. For each of us those improvements are different; better structure of p1, more understanding of the audience needs, something sticky to make the talk memorable, clear sparklines, less text in the slides, better images, fewer slides, more engaging delivery, stepping out from behind the podium, smiling, not apologising, finishing on time, delivering the punchline with passion. Any of those will make a big difference and transform any old presentation into the Greatest Presentation in Your World. Until you give one better.

And for clarity, blue background, yellow comic sans and centre justified is NOT The Greatest presentation in the World; it was for comic effect.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Pictures don't need titles

Imagine a beautiful picture, perhaps a sunset or a portrait, destroyed by patronising words on top of it. If a picture requires words to render it comprehensible the image is poorly chosen. If the intent of the image is clear, adding text is merely patronising, not explanatory. Images are complete in themselves.

The rationale behind annotation of images in presentations is unclear. Templates infer the need for a title on every slide. The misunderstood belief that text is required to make sense of the spoken work often persists once dependence on bulletpoints has passed. Signposting is entirely superfluous: as valuable as signposting a signpost. 

Text can add or change meaning in an image. That effectively combines the two elements as a whole. If the import of this whole would remain unaltered by removal of one component, that part is superfluous. Annotation of complex images adds only further complexity. If an image is so complex as to require explanation that can only be verbal.

An image should have enough strength to stand unaided. If a title is required, the image is weak and unhelpful. Duplicating the message of an image is patronising.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Miles ahead

Miles Davis, improvisational jazz wonder developed a new form of jazz outwith the accepted boundaries of music. He eschewed accepted understanding of chords and scales and gave the world amazing music. He did this, not by adding notes but by something exceptional. "It's not the notes you play; it's the notes you don't play."

In a presentation, the freedom to express oneself is a gift. The possibilities are endless. The challenge is to connect, to express oneself and to share insights, whatever the topic suggested. Sometimes we play too many notes. The reality is that fewer notes, chosen and specific tells a clearer story than a huge, messy noise of them.

Have a listen this, even if you have never listened to Miles.

Miles Davis - So what.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

It's not about you

The value of a presentation is NOT what you thought it was. Too often a speaker leaves the stage disappointed in their work, upset that a section hadn't gone as well as planned, that a previous rehearsal had been better, that there had been a technical glitch. Get over yourself, it's not about you.

The p cubed value of a presentation is assessed by the audience, not by the speaker. It is essential to recognise that the audience is not grading the presentation against any other version of the whole than the presentation that has just been delivered. The audience does not have a script that is checked for accuracy of delivery. The supportive media that is shown is the only media the audience view. If there has been a technical snafu this only raises mild disquiet. Even a stumbling nervous speaker is valued more highly than the speaker themselves perceive.

The worst critic of a presentation is the presenter themselves. A piece may have been poorly conceived, supported by distracting media and delivered in a faltering tone. If the audience receive the call to arms and are challenged, the presentation is a success. Similarly, an exquisitely crafted presentation that fails to connect is of little value. The audience hold all the scorecards of assessment.

Every good presenter should reflect on their presentation but that is only for further development not the piece itself. Guided by knowledge of the audience's response one should consider the value of the story, how the media added to the whole and what was the true nature of delivery. The reality of planning, preparation and practise should be included in this reflection. Development comes on the review of all these factors, not just "how it felt". It's not about you, it is about the audience.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

One at a time please? One at a time

If you are going to use images in a presentation use them only one at a time. Multiple images in a slide are impossible to look at comfortably. The eye is constantly looking from one to the other and the value of the many is lost. One image, appropriately framed and composed will support a point better than multiple images in the same slide.

Remember the purpose of an image is to support the p1 and even if multiple images all illustrate the same point the eye will constantly scan the whole, which in this case is five images, looking for meaning. This scanning is an additional cognitive load. Try concentrating on the juggler (bottom left) Most viewers will find their attention dragged to the moon and from there to the tip of the microphone. Attention focused on the sun will also be dragged away to the microphone or moon. The jugglers are frequently avoided as the image itself has less attractive composition.

Images add to a presentation. They should not add distraction. They work best as individuals.

Monday, 30 May 2016

It's not a shaggy dog story

Intro. Waffle waffle waffle, essential and potentially key interesting information. Waffle waffle waffle. Facts. Waffle waffle waffle. Build up with more key information. Waffle waffle waffle. Punchline.

A great presentation is better than a shaggy dog story; it should make sense before the punchline. That doesn't mean you should give everything away in the introduction but if the audience spends most of the presentation unsure of the final point of the whole, much of the preceding information will be lost in processing. This does not mean a detailed list of "key learning points"; "topics to be covered"; or "educational goal" as an introduction. The audience needs to invest in the next few minutes of the presentation and requires more than the existence of the speaker and the ultimate hope of an explanation to do so.

Clearly one should not, nor cannot, give away the whole presentation in the introduction. A challenging question, a stark contradiction of widely held views, a problem or even the punchline without the lead in will force the audience to engage with the presentation at the beginning rather than wait to the end to understand. Even if they don't agree with your
(presumed) point, at least their attention is held. An audience who see no value in a presentation will not engage until that becomes clear. The best presentations do this at the beginning, not with the shaggy dog punchline.

Friday, 27 May 2016

just for reference- don't

Big hair, flares, shoulder pads, mini skirts, wide ties, skinny jeans, platform shoes and putting references in powerpoint slides in a tiny font at the bottom of a slide. Just for reference- don't. No matter who it was suggested to you that leg warmers were back in or that you should use brylcreem fashions come and go and having references on your slides is just another fashion.

The value of the p2 in a presentation is to add value to the whole. It is not the handout. If it is esssentail that the audience take a detailed reference from the presentation make sure this is available in a handout. Even better, supply a link to the document itself.It neither adds kudos to your ascertion, "this is based on the literature" any more than speaking that fact and virtually no one can even read the references let alone effectively copy it down. If they can, then they are not listening to the speaker.

I know everyone does it now, but it used to be everyone was dressed like this.