Saturday, 25 October 2014

Why we must change presentations.

People ask my why I get so enthused about presentations. My answer is that stories are important. Through them we gain chances of understanding, change and emotion. The current means of communication (with powerpoint) hugely limit these opportunities.

In the closing scene of the film, "Blade Runner" the Nexus 6 robot Batty laments his situation. It struck me that this soliloqy beautifully encompasses my feelings about presentations. Batty speaks of seeing amazing things, attack ships on fire, c-beams, things "you people wouldn't believe." For me, these are every single presentation made, wonderful things people have learned and want to share, stories of passion and change, wisdom, insights, plans and thoughts, all of which are "amazing." And yet, because of the nature of their delivery and despite their deeply personal and valued creation they are lost, washed away as insignificant as tears in rain. Their passion and value diluted to uselessness as if they never existed. This is my sadness.

The speech doesn't end there though. Batty looks at Deckard, sent to kill him and smiles. "Time to die," he says and bows his head, decomissioned. The hope, which is my hope, is that clutched in the embrace of Batty is a white dove that, as he dies, is released. If we can address the way we communicate, share better ways of doing this and change then the "passion, change, wisdom, insights, plans and thoughts" that we all have and seek to share will be released like the dove and fly free.

Thank you for your excellent presentation. I very much enjoyed it.

Thank you for your Christmas present. It was exactly what I wanted.

Thank you for the date. I will call you.

Thank you for your comment. I will bear that in mind.

Thank you for your excellent presentation. I very much enjoyed it.

Thank you for stopping by. It was no problem putting you up.

Thank you for helping. I couldn't have done it without you.

Thanks for shopping here. Have a nice day.

Thank you for that complaint. Your comments are important to us.


How much data is too much data?

I recently had the privilige of presenting to the Dept. Paediatric Urology at Toronto Sick Kids Hospital. They were generally taken with the idea of a new method of presenting but one colleague was concerned that scientific presentations required the presentation of a lot of data and that this technique would preclude such presentation. I hope this answers his question, even if a little obliquely.

Following my time in Toronto I travelled, by train, to meet my parents in Kitchener. We drove from there to their home in Cambridge. Or...

Following my time at Toronto Sick Kids I walked out of the front entrance out onto Elizabeth Street. Turning south, I walked down Elizabeth Street to take a left onto Hagerman Street and the T junction onto Bay Street. I stopped momentarily at the Toronto Old City Hall to admire the clock. Continuing south on Bay I passed Trump Towers, musing on the great man's haircut, The Toronto Dominion Centre and then turned right onto Front Street. Being early for the train I stopped for a beer in The Loose Moose Grill. I nipped out from the bar and walked back along Front Street to Union Station, descended two flights of stairs and then up another flight of stairs to Platform 5 at which the #207 train was waiting. It left on time and stopped at Bloor, Weston, Etobicoke North, Halton, Bramalea, Brampton, Mount Pleasant, Georgetown, Acton, Guelph and finally arrived at Kitchener. We arrived at Platform No2. We drove from Kitchener to Cambridge on Regional Roads 55, 8, 28 before turning onto 48 and then via Blair and Princes to Newman Road.

Data is important. An audience needs way points to help it navigate. Those should be limited. It is our job to make the journey understandable and limit unnecessary information.




Thursday, 16 October 2014

Your powerpoint is not an autocue

One of the reasons some speakers are unwilling to change their presentation style is that their supportive media (p2) is actually an autocue; they simply read from it. This fails on many levels.

Speaking in public is nerve wracking and never let anyone tell you otherwise. The fear of forgetting your words or missing a key point is part of what prompts some speakers to put all their words on the screen and include all their key points. Thus, they counter, even if they do get lost, the audience will still be able to follow. This is not something we should aspire to. if it's that bad, don't bother delivering it.

Unfortunately having the script on the screen leads, without fail, to the speaker reading directly either from their laptop or worse by turning to face the screen. The text however is usually a written, rather than spoken style and this itself is very stilted. Speakers faced with such a detailed script are unable to move at their own pace, lose emotion and become unnecessarily constrained to the exact structure on the screen. Sadly, they seldom practise and the failings of the style only become apparent in the delivery. Worse, they stumble over meaningless and unimportant words and lose their confidence making what they perceive as errors.

From the perspective of the audience this form of delivery is exceptionally patronising. What is remarkable how few people actually get upset by it; it has become the accepted norm. Like it is for nursery school children. The audience faced with this stereo barrage are unable to read the detailed text as they are compelled psychologically to do due to the monotony of the delivery progressing at a slower pace in the background.

News readers and politicians are skilled at using the autocue; this is their job. They are not respected for their sincerity of delivery or knowledge of their subject. Your presentation and your audience are worth more. Don't patronie them.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

How to "do" a presentation

Various people have asked me how to "do" a presentation. Here is an ordered list. Please follow the steps, in order and I think you'll find the result illuminating and rewarding. There are lots of links to other posts that deal with the issues in a wee bit more detail. Have a look, share the ideas.

First, turn OFF your computer, get some scrap paper and a pen. Or some Post-It notes. Yes, turn off the computer.

I strongly suggest you write out, by hand, the answers to the following.

  1. Consider the audience- who are they and why they are in the auditorium for your presentation?
  2. With reference to your topic, where are the audience currently and where do you want them to be at the end of the presentation? BE SPECIFIC
  3. Write down in ONE sentence what change you want to see in your audience using specific action words. Do not simply say "learn more about", "understand" or variations, write what you want to achieve.
  4. Write an elevator pitch for your whole story that will leave the audience asking, "tell me more?"
  5. Construct a storyline that details this journey. It should rise and fall; the arc of a story.
  6. Within this story consider mini stories that need resolution (sparklines) and will maintain interest. For longer presentations you will need a spark every seven minutes.
  7. Is there a final denoument that will be memorable?
  8. Consider a STAR moment (Something To Always Remember) that the audience can return to and link your message to. This may be physical, an interaction or a challenging statement. Build that into your story.
  9. WRITE out your story, step by step. Not word by word though. You should be able to see you story.
  10. Now consider which of these steps would benefit from illustration. NOT every single one but a summary image for a few of these steps. Maybe even NO image at all, a blank slide (the best slide in the world!)
  11. Start again and remove half of what you intend to say. Seriously. Less is more. You'll just ignore this point but you're wrong.
  12. Now, fire up your presentation software. If you have turned it on before now, go back to the beginning, you are doing this wrong. No, you are.
  13. Once you have decided the illustrations for your talk get rid of half of them. It's illustrations, not a comic novel.You want to illustrate, not annotate.
  14. You now need to deliver this. You will need a stop watch and ideally an audience. Stand up and deliver this OUT LOUD.
  15. Unless you are 10% UNDER time, start again and remove HALF of what you intend to say.  NEVER think you will either do this on the day or "just go a bit quicker. You won't. You MUST finish early in this setup, you WILL take longer on the day.
  16. Return to point 14 and try again. You will also notice bits that just didn't seem right. Move them, improve them or remove them. The presentation is not complete until you have delivered it at least FIVE times
  17. By now your timing will have improved dramatically and you have a much better idea of the steps in your presentation. Turn off the presentation software and give your presentation, timed. No notes, no slides. THIS is what you want to say.
  18. I would strongly suggest you now re-do the whole thing. Step 18 has shown you the bits you really want.
  19. Now construct your handout. It is NOT your slides. It is a digital representation of knowledge that you want the audience to have access afterwards. It might include pdfs, images, audio, notes, links to web sites or even a url where all of this may be downloaded later.
  20. That's construction, delivery is quite another matter.
  21. Share these ideas with folks who ask. Maybe share these ideas with folks who might need a wee bit of help.

    A quick link to this page is

    Or the QR code 

Less is more

Less words.
Less complexity.
Less facts.
Less bulletpoints.
Less datapoints.
Less graphs.
Less clip art.
Less annotation.
Less slides.
Less rambling.
Less apologising.
Less time.

Less is more.

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.