Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Design affects function

Simple design changes in the supportive media  make dramatic differences to the audience's perception of value in a presentation. The overall value of a presentation (p cubed) is the product of the story (p1) x the supportive media (p2) x the delivery (p3). Imagine how you would perceive the p cubed value if the presenter's shirt was untucked at one side? It doesn't actually affect his story or the media but the perception of sloppiness or lack of attention to detail will affect how the overall message is perceived. The style in the supportive media can make a significant difference.

A simple and effective design improvement is in the change of alignment within a slide. This may be images or text. There are many factors that can be improved such as image composition, framing, clutter, fontography, size and spacing. Rather than allow templates to "design" the supportive media there is opportunity influence interpretation both of the individual slide and the overall presentation by changes in alignment.

Centre alignment or justification of text, despite being default on most slideware is a poor way of presenting text. It "leads" the eye down the middle of the text and although it may be symmetrical (itself a poor design choice) it leaves an untidy look that is difficult to read. Particularly when projected on a large screen, the image above will be viewed as principally saying "inspiration" "not" "for". Go back and see how easily it is read and then immediately view the slide below.

Justification of text, preferably to the left, as this is the direction European languages are read from, delivers a stylistically improved image that is easier to read and therefore delivers more value. Even with the same words on the same lines, the simple act of left justification forces the viewer to read, with specific rhythm, the words as written. Design affects function.

For those that are interested, the phrase on the slides comes from a little piece I did at TEDx Stuttgart in 2013

Friday, 15 May 2015

It's alright Ma, I'm only bleeding

This is the Mona Lisa, probably one of the most famous images in the world. Putting a frame around her doesn't make her any more amazing. Putting a load of white space around her would detract from her. There is a decorative frame on la Gioconda but that is principally to hold her onto the wall. Images in your presentation do not need a frame, they should fill the whole space available and "bleed"" off the edge. If your image doesn't fill the screen, find another one, don't "frame" it. Additionally, there is no value in adding titles to images. Your delivery (p3) should encompass this. Images work on their own, don't reduce their value by adding frames or text.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Never say, "I'm sorry."

There is no place in a presentation for apologies. There should be nothing in your preparation that would cause you to apologise and nothing in your delivery that you should apologise for. Apologies are an expression of contrition and of course they have value when errors occur. In terms of presentations the places such problems might occur are in construction of the story (p1), construction of the media (p2) and delivery of the presentation (p3). The first two instances are completely within the control of the presenter and should never be an issue and the latter, even if performance issues, have little value in expression save to draw attention to the fact. The majority of the time the only person who notices is you.When you are on stage, don't apologise.

In terms of the story (p1) appropriate preparation and knowledge of the audience should prevent those situations in which a presenter is heard to apologise. "I'm sorry, I didn't prepare well." "I apologise, I didn't realise this was a mixed group audience." "Please forgive me, this is a long talk, I'll rush through it." All these comments show a lack of preparation and understanding of the purpose of the presentation. It is the responsibility of the presenter to know, ahead of time, exactly the nature of the audience, the requirements of the presentation and appropriate preparation for the presentation. There is no excuse for failing to do this.

The media is also a source of apology but once again appropriate care and preparation should remove the majority of issues presenters feel they need to apologise for. "I'm sorry, these aren't my slides." "Do forgive me, that doesn't appear to have worked." "Excuse me for this complicated slide, I'll walk you through it." Good presenters do not attempt to deliver, without preparation another colleagues slides. If you do, then suitable preparation will allow adjustment and correction, not apology. All issues of technology and function within a presentation should be addressed and tested during practice and not on delivery of the piece. Complex slides were complex in their construction and failing to correct this is laziness or uncaring, not a cause for apology but change. The media should be prepared not apologised for.

Lastly there are issues that presenters feel they need to apologise for during delivery (p3.) Don't. Some presenters minimise their own value unnecessarily, apologise for their appearance or nervousness or problems of delivery. Firstly, the problems are better addressed and corrected rather than hoping the audience will forgive and secondly seeking comfort by debasement neither shows the audience value nor builds up the speaker. Technical issues of course do occur but running through beforehand should minimise this and unless it was your fault that you pulled the plug out, don't take it on as your responsibility.  Apologising in such circumstances achieves the opposite effect making the presenter feel worse and accepting of poorer quality. Moreover, the audience are present, they can neither change the speaker nor your emotions so it is simply best to deliver, not apologise.

There are lots of places we need to say sorry in life; on stage is not one of them.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Something they will always remember

My drive is for presentations to be remembered, so that the amazing things people have to share and teach and talk about will not be "lost in time like tears in rain." One way to help the audience is to have something that stands out as basis from which the talk can be reconstructed after leaving the auditorium. Nancy Duarte in her meisterwerk "Resonate" calls this a STAR moment- Something They will Always Remember. (this is FREE online!)

A STAR moment can be a spoken challenge; "everything you know about this is wrong." It might be a dramatic fact; "after hearing this presentation you will never view presentations the same way again." It might be something physical like the act of breathing used as an analogy. It might be the audience dressing up. Each of these STAR moments should be remarkable, that is, cause the audience to remark. From that point they have a starting point on the journey that they have been lead by your presentation and, ideally, they should be able to recreate the key message.

In a recent presentation I gave to Paediatricians on Paediatric Surgical problems my aim was to encourage them to think like surgeons. I recognised that whilst everyone has been in a surgical department this is often many years earlier. To try to jog memories and as a STAR moment I gave every audience member a surgical cap and mask and got them to put these on and try to "think like a surgeon." It was simple, engaged the whole audience and was amusing. Hopefully it was memorable. From that simple action I believe the audience could in future return to that room and regather the message of "thinking like a surgeon" having been dressed as one even for just five minutes.

The potential value of a STAR moment is clear but it is essential that it connects to the message and is not simply something that shocks or is odd. There must be consideration of alternative interpretations of the STAR moment that may distract from the message. There is a risk of patronising or confusing an audience and care must be taken that the purpose is clear to the audience not simply as entertainment. The purpose is to be able to remember the message, not simply the STAR moment.

For a presentation to be memorable there is value in considering adding a STAR moment. Clearly dressing up isn't ideal for a major scientific meeting or business case but at least now you are thinking of alternatives! Make your presentation memorable.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Text in presentations

For the benefit of clarity, I am not against text in presentations. The goal of the perfect presentation (p2) is NOT simply to eradicate all text. The goal of the perfect presentation is to augment the story (p1) and add to the delivery (p3) so that the value of the whole is increased. Text, in its place, can add to a presentation.

The problem with text in presentations is distraction. It has been covered in many blog posts. It forces the audience to read and this distracts attention from the speaker. It often forces the speaker to read and this distracts from the delivery. If it accompanies images it distracts from their purpose. The majority of presentations are made poorer by the quantity and (lack of) purpose of the text contained in the supportive media (p2).

Text can have value in supportive media. It can clarify a data slide such that interpretation is quicker. Text can give emphasis to a motif or discussion point. Text can itself be an image. Text can be important in a presentation when used with purpose and subtlety. Text is not banned in presentations.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Spare some time guv?

We look past them, we try to avoid eye contact or politely but with a degree of embarrassment refuse their request. Our reasons for doing so are multiple but the reality is most of us could spare more than we frequently do. What would they use it for? Why don’t they have any? Can you really not spare even just a little?

Audiences are begging for presenters not just to ignore them, avoid eye contact or behave as though they don't exist. They are looking for you to consider them, to connect with them and treat them as people not the enemy or a threat. When you do, you will be hugely rewarded; so will they.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

My boss won't like it.

"I would love to change presentation style but my boss won't like it," is a familiar lament heard when considering improving presentations.This resistance may be perceived, explicit, limited or simply an expression of the presenter's own reluctance to embrace change. Presentation style is influenced by senior opinion.

It is important to have the support of seniors when giving a presentation particularly if their name/department/company may be implicated in delivery and this must be respected. The desire for conformity is often extrapolated to the perception that our seniors and bosses would resist any change. A guest blogger @NickFerran commented that his biggest surprise was the overwhelming relief expressed by his boss; "at last someone is improving presentations." It is worthwhile establishing if resistance to change is true or not.

My advice is to construct the best presentation possible and then, in advance, deliver this as a rehearsal performance to your boss. This gives opportunity and time for change if required but also showcases the effectiveness of the improvement. The preparation is never wasted. Even if the most restrictive and conservative approach is ultimately required, the nature and direction of story (p1) will have been established and influence your construction. Whatever changes are required in the supportive media (p2) will reflect this and can be improved relative to the established approach and the delivery (p3) has every opportunity to be improved by practice. The opportunity for a senior to critique a well prepared and rehearsed presentation is more likely to meet acceptance than a request to "try something a little different when I make the powerpoint."

There is value in explaining the benefits of change, particularly when its purpose is better communication. Some chiefs respond to explanation of individual principles (?individual blog posts here) and some to the package as a whole. If the approach to constructing a presentation is a senior "edit" once the presentation has been constructed it is worthwhile having some of these specific arguments constructed and rehearsed. Most concerns are well countered by a excellently delivered presentation and the statement that this will improve communication and reception of the message.

Change is often about compromise and one area of concern from seniors is frequently in "branding" of a corporate template. The discussion regarding the limitations of such a template should focus on its restriction of effective communication. A compromise in the face of insistence is "topping and tailing" a presentation such that the introductory slide and final slide contain all the icons and corporate colours that are prescribed. In such a case, pause, significantly, after the corporate introduction and then make the second slide YOUR attention grabbing start highlighting the break from this restriction. Similarly make it clear in your delivery that the penultimate slide is the denouement of your presentation with the corporate tail added after a significant pause or during questions.

The priorities and influences on presentation design change relative to many factors. A small presentation as part of in house teaching is very different to a keynote speech at an international meeting. A very junior member of staff may feel the most constrained although I was advised that this week at a national medical research meeting the most engaging and effective presentation was delivered by a 3rd year medical student. Remember also that one word of criticism is not an inditement of your or your abilities more often a personal expression of the conformity of the senior.

The goal of improving presentations is effective communication. Simply being different doesn't make a presentation good. Neither does being the same as every other presentation. Your boss probably values effective communication the most.