Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bad presentations are your fault.

I had the misfortune yesterday to sit through five presentations, which as a group were possibly the worst presentations I have seen in many years. Uniformly, none of the presenters had a point to their talks, they simply recited a pile of facts. I say recited and mean recited; every single word of their script was included on the densely compiled, visually impenetrable, colour clashing slides. The "room" was approximately 40m long by 6 wide actually made up of four rooms joined lengthwise. The presenters all had a microphone but the majority of audience responses were inaudible. Not one question was asked of the presenters as they failed uniformly to engage the audience of one hundred people who had given up 4 hours of their time for that meeting.


I'm sure each of the presenters put a lot of effort into the preparation and delivery of their talks. I fully appreciate that with an interest in all things presentation that I have much higher standards than others for what I consider good. I recorded my feelings on the feedback form. Left alongside my form were the four forms from colleagues at the same table. Each recorded the quality of the presentations as "good" or "excellent" and that the day had, "met educational requirements". That these presenters and colleagues delivered and assessed those presentations as such has a number of possible reasons. 


  • They believe those were good presentations
  • They have no expectation or experience of good presentations
  • They believe those weren't good presentations but are uncomfortable giving honest feedback.
  • They have no confidence that honest feedback will make any difference.
  • They just don't want to rock the boat.


Try to remember the last presentation you sat through and then completed a feedback form for. Were you honest? What standards to did you assess it against? Did it meet your expectations and what level of expectation do you have? 

Bad presentations are your fault as long as you accept poor quality, deliver poor quality yourself, fail to deliver appropriate feedback or fail to act upon appropriate feedback, ignoring outlying opinions. Change is only going to happen when it becomes the norm to expect great presentations, to deliver better presentations and give honest feedback. If we don't, it will only get worse.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Trees, not chains.

Organising knowledge requires a conceptual tree of information, not a chain.The structure of a concept is complex, not linear. Presenting knowledge in a linear fashion limits the ability of an audience to process this structure and therefore limits understanding. Linkage between parts of the structure are harder to perceive when presented in a strictly linear fashion. This is one reason why standard presentations deliver information rather than learning.



The majority of presentations are simply a linear series of rough lumps of data, joined only by their delivery. The presenters role is to make multiple connections amongst the pieces and deliver  understanding. This is by construction of a "so what" rather than simply delivery of the "what". 

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Illustrate, don't annotate.


The route to a better presentation has been detailed in many previous blog posts. If I could give you only one tip to improve your next presentation it would be in considering your p2, the supportive media.

Illustrate, don't annotate.

When you have considered what the "So what" of your message is, you should have constructed an arc determining how you will convince your audience to move from where they are at the beginning of your all to where you would like them at the end and this makes up your story. Rather than considering that you will detail every one of those steps using words, support your narrative with illustration. This will allow the audience to understand the current theme you are discussing without being distracted by the text behind you so they can concentrate on what you are saying.






Thursday, 10 July 2014

What's it all about?


Can you tell me, in ONE sentence, what your presentation is all about? if you can't you don't know what it is about.

This picture shows four of the riders on The Tour de France yesterday. We can see King of The Mountains rider, Cyril Lemoine wearing the polka dot jersey. He has six points from six stages currently, one point ahead of Blel Kadri and another point ahead of my favourite rider Jens Voigt. The best young rider wears a pure white jersey and is currently Peter Sagan. He however is leading the Sprint classification with 217 and consequently the second place young rider, Michal Kwiatowski sports white. The Astana team wear a powder blue race suit and we can see Jakob Fuglsang here on the left, currently in second place overall 2 seconds behind his team leader Vincenzo Nibali whose current time of 24hours, 38 minutes 35 seconds is the quickest overall. He proudly wearing the yellow, "Maillot Jaune" of the Leader of the Tour de France.

Vincenzo Nibali wears the yellow, "Maillot Jaune" of the current of the Leader of the Tour de France.

Sometimes data and information gets in the way of clarity.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Guest blog- On becoming a better presenter

It is always encouraging to me to hear of colleagues who have put into practice their ideas on improving presentations and share their feedback.  In another guest blog Emma shares her thoughts. Please read and check out her beautiful slide set(p2)



"I attended one of Mr Fisher’s excellent Presentation Skills workshops recently, and was keen to put my newly learned skills into action.

I’d been given a week’s notice to prepare a ten-minute presentation on a non-clinical topic for a Training the Trainers course.  I decided to speak about Vincent van Gogh; a topic which has interested me since I visited the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam some years ago.

Before opening PowerPoint, I thought hard about the story I wanted to tell.  This is one of the points which Mr Fisher stressed to us.  I wanted to take the audience on a short, interactive journey, during which I’d also use a flip chart to get ideas from the audience about the emotions and influences which might have been behind van Gogh’s artistic style, using specific paintings and points in his life as examples.  After I’d composed my story, I chose paintings to illustrate the points in my story and to stimulate the audience to produce their own ideas.  I then put my PowerPoint together.

My slides are here https://www.dropbox.com/s/ha68417tkdli841/Vincent.ppt You’ll notice that there’s a Monet amongst them – this isn’t a mistake!  It’s there to explain impressionism, and van Gogh’s departure from this style.

I didn’t use any notes or bullet points (other than in two slides) and I found this quite liberating.  Standing away from the computer enabled me to interact better with the audience and it was reassuring to see that I had their attention.  In the past I’ve variously used bullet points, speaker notes or cards. I used them as a zimmer frame, and I think they tripped me up more often than they helped me. I wish I’d known sooner that presenting is actually easier, and less nerve-wracking, when you know your topic so well that you don’t need any help remembering what you want to say. It makes the whole experience smoother and less stressful.  It takes a leap of faith to do this, as well as lots of practice, but it really is better to speak from the heart than from your slides, or your notes, or from a memorized script.

As this was a Training the Trainers Course, I had immediate feedback from my peers and from a Professor of Medical Education!  I’d felt nervous and thought I might have spoken too fast.  I was worried that they’d think I’m a bit odd for presenting using mainly pictures, and for speaking on a niche topic.  I wasn’t sure how well I’d managed to tie in my story with audience participation. So, I was quite surprised that there were many positive comments - apparently I came across as enthusiastic and engaging, I spoke clearly, and everyone said they enjoyed looking at pretty pictures whilst I spoke about them.  I even got a comment that I ran a good storyline through the presentation, which kept the audience interested and engaged."

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

It's just not scientific...

Recently I shared ideas with a colleague about presentations and she significantly altered the supportive media (p2) of her upcoming presentation. She was very pleased with her performance and the reception of the presentation by the audience (p cubed) but the feedback from a senior colleague was that, "there are rules that have to be followed when making a scientific presentation" and implied that it was a poor presentation.

I've done a fair amount of searching and  what I can find are a series of diktats citing numbers such "30-20-10" or "5-5-5" as means to produce a "scientific" presentation. What I cannot find is evidence that this is effective or that it is "scientific" any more than a white coat denotes a scientist. What does exist is a mountain of evidence that such presentations contravene many simple psychological principles and are thus much less effective than they might be.

Designing a talk around the needs of the audience and a message rather than a list of information is scientifically proven to be a much better way to engage with an audience and have retention of information. Reducing the amount of text on slides and illustrating with appropriate supportive media is scientifically proven to be better than text heavy slides doubling as an handout. Engaging with the audience in the delivery (p3) because the speaker is freed from the restriction of the scripted, bulletpointed list is scientifically proven to improve audience retention of information.

All of this may not look like old fashioned, "scientific" presentations but if it works better because of the science, isn't it about time we changed our view of what a scientist looks like?


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

So what.

The purpose of your presentation is to turn the "what" of your information into the "so what" of your message (p1). Sadly, most presentations leave the audience adding a question mark to that sentence.

Information in and of itself may not be interesting. Take, for example, your contacts database. It is simply a list of names and numbers arranged in a particular fashion. Sharing this "what" in the standard manner of presentations would lead the audience to despair within minutes. Linking the people, showing pictures of their faces, telling stories that engage and sharing emotions of their friendship such that this data turns into a reason to want to meet these people and hear more about them, turns the "what" into a "so what".