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.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Which part of your preparation took the most time?

A great presentation takes time. None of them fall from the heavens perfectly constructed and no great presenter steps on the stage having just written their piece last night. So which part of preparation took the most time in your last presentation? It was the wrong bit.

The majority of presenters understand that the totality of their presentation lies within the supportive media. It contains all the data that is required for the audience and consequently works as both a perfect script and handout. These three functions make up the slideument. Constructing the perfect supportive media (p2) takes the most time.

The needs of the audience are paramount in constructing a presentation and consequently consideration of the audience needs must be a priority. A clear understanding of the travel for the audience from the beginning to the end of the presentation gives the best structure for a presentation and this should take the most time.

The whole purpose of a presentation is the transfer of information and a great presenter gives this priority. Whatever the content, it is the nature of the p1 that engages the audience and will be taken from the presentation. Even a great handout will not match a great p1. This should take the most time.

Once the perfect presentation is constructed (p1 + p2) it only has value if it is effectively delivered. Practise is essential and this is more than simple repetition reading from a laptop. No great performer steps onto a stage uncertain of the realities of their piece and yet so few presenters actually make time for effective practise.

Preparation on the day of a presentation also plays an important part in the effeective delivery. Many a great presentation is lost between the last practise and the the opening remarks. Arriving early at the event, meticulously checking the technology, planning your route to the stage and your calming routine all take time. If these are omitted the risks of failure rise.

Consider how much time you gave each of these steps for the last presentation and understand where you need to spend more time for the next. For me, it is practise.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

200 and counting!

This post marks the 200th in a series of little comments on #presentationskills . I started the blog in March 2013 and the current number of hits is over 120,000. Thank you for your interest!

The most popular posts are listed below. It is encouraging to see that the most popular is the #htdap. It amuses me still that the post on prezi is so popular and of course that performance anxiety is always an issue.

10 Jun 2013,
19 Aug 2015,

And the least read posts are listed. They are of course from back at the beginning but there is still some insight to be gained from them. Share the love!

They are all the same                     128
9 May 2013

Why does good design work?           127
7 April 2013

What's it all about?                         119
10 July 2014

Images work on their own               115
13 March 2013

Be prepared                                    105
29 March 2013

I'm pleased the way this blog has helped me develop my own ideas and humbled that so many folk have commented how much these post and ideas have helped them improve their presentations. I am grateful to the numerous colleagues who have written guest posts describing their own experiences regarding the value of this approach and hope to add to that in the future.

I had, naively, thought that others would quickly see as I did that presentations in their current form simply do not work but the truth of the matter is that is not the case. I am not a great thinker merely I speak frequently on on the matter. Every single minute of every single day people around the world are standing up to read their powerpoint to audiences and the amazing things they have to share are lost, like tears in rain. This is neither due to a lack of insight of the presenter nor a lack of input but in the method of construction and hence delivery of their message. The message that presentations can engage and educate and inspire and communicate is still fresh and needs to be shared as widely as possible. 

So please, keep on reading, keep sharing the posts, keep discussing how we can make presentations better and being an example to others that we can engage and encourage and inspire though presentations. Thank you.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Presentation wisdom from Winnie the Pooh

My dear friend @nicolegugger is very wise. She recently wrote this blogpost on the presentation insights from Winnie the Pooh. If your German is up to it, I strongly commend the original over at

If your German isn't so good, please forswear the Google Translate version and have a read of the precis below.

It is always a thrill to see how much wisdom there is in children's books. Recently I have been introduced to Winnie the Pooh and wanted to share some of his insights as reflections on presentations.

Winnie the Pooh

"It's much more fun to talk with someone who does not use long difficult words but rather short, easy words like, "What about lunch?" said Winnie the Pooh

Simple direct language in presentations makes them more approachable but also shows honesty and authenticity. All industries are criss-crossed by technical terms but we should remember that audiences may not always share that vocabulary. Speak simply, the audience will thank you.

"Pooh, how do spell love?" asked Piglet. "You don't spell it," said Pooh, "you feel it." 

Many speakers make claims of a product or service that they simply don't believe themselves. Once you believe it yourself, then you can convince others, not simply by words but by your enthusiasm and passion. These are what put sparkle in your eyes, enthusiasm in your voice and act as the true power of persuasion and credibility. If you feel it, share it. If you don't, your words are empty.

Pooh thought for a moment. "Rivers know there is no hurry. They say, we'll get there some day."

And so it is for presentations. It takes time to make a great presentation, it is not created in a rushed three hours the night before. No one can make the river flow. Similarly the apparently slow pace of a river is purposeful and one must not discount the value in time taken for brainstorming, storyboarding, planning a theme and finding excellent graphics before practise and practise, all of which takes time. What may appear to be a meandering river gets there in the time required. So it is with the practice of presentations, it takes time. 

Lastly, if you haven't read Winnie the Pooh can I commend it strongly to you. Engaging characters, lovable stories and so much wisdom for all those with open eyes and hearts. And ignore the Disney version, only the original by AA Milne counts.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

reflections on failure

So, I stepped onto the stage to give a Keynote presentation having checked and run through the whole IT setup, twice. The IT guy pressed the button to swap from the Conference backdrop to my presentation and launched...absolutely nothing, just a blue screen. I paused. I saw Mr IT rushing forward, so I started speaking. After about a minute of him faffing around as I continued to speak, it became clear this was not going to improve. So I shut the laptop, put down the remote control and stepped into the middle of the stage.

This is the first time I have ever had such a major, in delivery, fail and although it wasn't ideal I got through. I'm writing this not as self praise but to add some thoughts on what to do and how to cope. IT problems are real and the best advice I can give is to be prepared for complete failure.

A presentation without supportive media is, in most cases, entirely possible. Probably the first thing to emphasise is do not panic. I completely appreciate that is easier said than written. Stop for a second or two, gather your thoughts and remember all that practise. Practise is essential not only to groove delivery at the big event but for precisely this eventuality. Repetition will have ensured that you know what your p1 is all about. Added to that the reality that your audience neither know your script nor are they marking you against how well you stick to it. This is simply another practise, without slides.

For the vast majority of p3 presenters, even although  their delivery has moved beyond a script on the slide set the individual images of p2 frequently are signposts in the speaker. They mark transitions and sparklines. Visualisation of these steps will lead you through delivery. A pause at the end of one section will offer the space to mentally move the slide set forward: the next section will become clearer. Try to avoid telling the audience repeatedly what can't be seen.

It is essential to move quickly past the problem and repeated apology is neither required nor valuable. The audience may not even reognise there is an issue. The presentation now relies more strongly on the delivery (p3). Anxiousness will always result in speaking more quickly. It is important therefore to purposefully, slow, down. Slower speech has many effects; it will actually calm the anxious speaker simply in itself; it gives space for the speaker to consider the next section and to think about speaking rather than remembering. Consider more clearly the idea of a conversation, rebuilding the story rather than reciting it.

Perversely, without the concrete structure and with delays in beginning there is a strong likelihood of over running. Good preparation will ensure the arc of the story is clear in the presenter's mind but it is essential that the punchline is delivered effectively and within time. Ensure that as time progresses that endpoint is both clear and targeted.

If, due to lack of practise, it would be impossible to deliver the presentation unaided speak to the Chairman. Five minutes unofficial break may allow IT to resolve the problem and the speaker to regain their cool. A talk can often be re-scheduled. If all else fails it is better to withdraw gracefully than crumple after a few minutes.

Technological problem do happen despite preparation. If not immediately resolved make a decision whether to carry on or not. Good preparation will allow most presentations to be delivered but ensure a more paced delivery with visualisation rather than presentation of images. Ensure timekeeping is accurate and that a more conversational delivery still results in the punchline being delivered. Practise is the key defence against failure.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


If you are going for an important interview would you just put on any old clothes? If you are going on a first date would you just wander straight from work without considering your make up? Your parents are coming to stay and you haven't tidied the house for week; never mind? It doesn't really matter how you look, people value you as the person. Really? How would you feel if you were conducting the interview, if you are the date, if you are the parents? Are your presentations the same?

There is an ennui about presentations that most folk recognise. We don't expect to be captivated or engaged by the majority of presentations so when we prepare them we have this as a background. The speakers never seem very enthusiastic so the audience reflects that too. No one else appears to be making much of an effort so why should we?

But we all remember the candidate who has made the effort. We frequently went on a second date with someone because of the effort they put in. Guests in our homes value that feeling you give them that they are special. So will the audience at your next presentation. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Look 'em in the eye.

The best way to reduce your nervousness on the day of your talk is to look the audience in the eye. Preparation is essential and will deliver the majority of speakers to a point on the day of relative confidence; the material is well known and practised. The reality though of stepping into the bright light or onto the floor is that nervousness can return very quickly. Looking into the audience and holding the gaze of individuals is a useful trick to reduce your nervousness.

No audience wants a speaker to fail. This is a very important fact to hold onto. The reality of this is quickly strengthened by actually holding the gaze of individual audience members rather than simply scanning across the room.The response of a person spoken directly to is always encouraging and will help even the most nervous of speakers. Conversely, avoiding eye contact actually increases one's distress. Look out as you are speaking and as you move across the audience fix on a friendly face and hold their gaze. Now, you are speaking to that person. They will value it and you will be encouraged.

A good speaker can actually make sure that, within reason for the size of an audience, every individual is connected with. This makes a huge difference to your message. Some audience members may find this a little challenging and look away but they will still have valued the interaction. There are two points to bear in mind. Some people have an "odd" listening face, they concentrate and let their expression rest. It may appear that they look bored, angry, disconnected or questioning. Usually holding their gaze will stimulate a change. Don't be put off. Secondly, be careful of holding the gaze of someone who wasn't paying as much attention as you might like; this may come across as slightly threatening.

Public speaking makes every speaker nervous. Response from the audience will always be encouraging. Use this for your own benefit by actively engaging in holding eye contact. Your nervousness will be reduced and the audience will value your attention.