Thursday, 26 November 2015

A good presentation doesn't need slides, does it?

An interesting question and a good topic for debate when presentation geeks get together and have a few beers. (We do get together and have a few beers!)

The answer, like so many debates, is yes. And no. I do think one can give a great presentation (p cubed) without supportive media (p2) but also that a great story (p1) can be delivered with excellence (p3) can be made even better with the addition of  great supportive media (p2).

The reality for many presentations though is that the support the p2 provides is often central or the crucial to the presentation. In some cases it is the script or at least prompts for the speaker that, should it fail, would leave delivery impossible. The p2 should add value to the presentation by illustration or explanation. Any good presentation should stand without p2, as sometimes happens when technology fails.

I believe the same applies whatever the purpose of the presentation whether that is didactic teaching, keynote speech or small group work. The purpose of having a speaker there is to speak, their slideset may support that but should never supplant that or leave the speaker redundant. That is a document and is more efficiently sent by email. This in no way reduces the value of teaching, it merely changes the way it is delivered; taught, not recited.

Can one give a presentation without slides? Of course. many of us have. Should one? No, the opportunity is there to add further to the p cubed value of the presentation, why not take it? Make sure always though that the p2 never distracts from the story or its delivery

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Reading the dictionary out loud.

Guten ist mir Freude hier meine Damen. EHerren Abend eine zu und sein. That is just a list of German words in a meaningless order. I am hoping it doesn't mean anything (bad) but using it as a metaphor for the problem of teaching. Simply a list of words or data gives no understanding. When we teach we need to share words being used in language, not simply their existence. "Guten Abend meine Damen und Herren. Es ist mir eine Freude hier zu sein. And that is the extent of my German."

The purpose of a presentation is to deliver a message, an idea, a thought, a challenge or call to arms. Facts on their own can be better derived from a book, and usually more efficiently. The role of a presenter is to convert those facts into something of value (the p1) for that particular audience, conversion of the "what" into a "so what". One of the reasons presentations don't work is a failure to address this in the very initial stages of construction thinking that volume of facts will carry the day. It's not about "covering everything" or listing the top 30 most important points or being encyclopaedic, it is about sharing knowledge as a language rather than reading the dictionary out loud.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Sense you're not making

It supports delivery. Many fail due to lack of effective structure. This is the basis of construction. An effective presentation has structure. This leaves sense making to the audience. Without structure a presentation is merely a list. It facilitates better data retention. There is more to structure than simply introduction, method, results, discussion and conclusion.

Take the exact same sentences and put them in a different order.

An effective presentation has structure. This is the basis of construction. It supports delivery. It facilitates better data retention. Without structure a presentation is merely a list. This leaves sense making to the audience. There is more to structure than simply introduction, method, results, discussion and conclusion. Many fail due to lack of effective structure.

Merely presenting a list of facts is of little value. The role of presenter is to link facts together into a message of value. The nature of that linkage is the basis to flow of a presentation and should be the foundation from which a presentation is built. Sense is not simply about listing facts but making them into something of value for the individual audience members. 

Monday, 2 November 2015


I was invited recently to give a presentation. I recorded and annotated the process of preparation using storify and twitter. The results can be seen

If you have thoughts or comments please join the conversation.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Baby steps

It is often daunting when considering change, such as in presentations, to consider only the difference between an expert and your current position. This brings feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and resignation. Consequently no change is made except in feeling bad. That isn't the aim of this blog. 

Every journey begins with a single step and for many that step may be faltering, delayed and unsure. The next step will be easier but may still involve significant challenge, may be uncertain and unrewarded but each is a step further away from poor presentations on the route to better communication. Don't be discouraged by the challenge or the lack of perceived change but persevere as you start to make a difference.

So where to start? I would commend your visit here as a great beginning. Even simply considering that there might be a different way is progress in itself. For most, the easiest place to begin making changes is in the nature of p2; illustrate don't annotate and consider why you have a slide not what you want to say on it. My best advice is to reconsider the whole concept of a presentations and begin with the story p1. Many are under direct instruction regarding "a presentation" and this limits this freedom of thought and expression but you can work on your delivery (p3) aiming to engage more effectively. 

Most importantly consider simply how you might "do" it differently even if you're not allowed to. Seek out best practise through TED talks and other presentations online, go to local conferences and speaking events like pechakucha or ignite and observe colleagues who have started their own journey towards better presentations. Wherever you are, your journey starts with baby steps.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Your best presentation will not be on the stage

In the very best version of your presentation, the story will flow with an easy eloquence, the supportive media will add only élan to a piece delivered with passion, nuance and precision. You will know that it was excellent. It is probable your cat will agree as she will be the only one there. When you step on the big stage you need to recognise you will never be as good as your best practise session.

No one can prevent the decay on The Big Day but one can set the level from which it occurs by effective preparation and practise. The sigmoid curve of presentations suggests that the better the preparation, the less the perceived drop. There are a multitude of factors that bring about this drop but it's important not to expect that adrenaline will see you through or hoping it will be alright on the night. Practise is what brings a great presentation. Of course those who don't practise won't see any drop in value. The cat won't notice either.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

If you are just presenting data, don't bother.

If you are just presenting data, don't bother. The data of your presentation (p1) is much better presented in a document. It lasts longer, may be reviewed at an individual's own pace and allows for detailed and fulsome interpretation. In presentation you must add value to that data not simply read it, recite it or write it. For many presenters this is both a huge change in practice and a significant challenge. From the "what" of the data, create a "so what" for the specific audience.

A useful starting point is to consider the audience needs. The audience does not simply need data. They need to care. They need to feel there is value for them in the piece and that there is something tangible for them to take away. An analogy is a contacts database on your phone. This is simply a series of lists of numbers, addresses and emails addresses. It is only of value when you make their individual phone ring, rather than just send a spam email. Make it personal, add value.