Dull presentations that bore the audience and damage people’s careers are to be found, it seems, in every industry and sector. At The Media Coach, we have seen a lot of prize specimens.
Established practice is often bad practice, riddled with overly long bullet points, statements of the blindingly obvious mixed in with obtuse arguments barely understood and rarely remembered. And there are the branding departments who insist on colour schemes, headers, footers etc.
So how can you lift your presentation above the crowd? Below are some of the basics of best practice and some common mistakes made by dull presenters.
Dull presentations can be avoided
• Plan on paper. It will make your structure clearer.
• Have a clear take away message.
• Write for your specific audience – typically, the more tailored the presentation, the better.
Be picture or data led, keep text to a minimum
• Be picture or data led – limit text and bullet points. No one can read and listen at the same time and if you have lots of words on the screen you will be tempted to turn your back on the audience to read them. For a guide watch how little text appears on television graphics. It can be a revelation.
• If it is a long presentation divide it into clear chapters, and tell the audience when you move from one chapter to the other. If you know how to use the message house (anyone trained by us will know what this means) this is a very good basis for a presentation, although clearly not the only template possible.
• Don’t be scared to introduce or summarise an argument in a few words on an otherwise empty slide. It can really help to signpost your presentation in this way. Just don’t leave it up too long.
• Rehearse aloud.
• Face the audience and not the screen for at least 80% of the time.
• Speak slowly with energy.
Dull presentations. Consider just sending an email
We think presentations should not be just about informing an audience. It should be entertaining and inspiring. As my fellow trainer Eric Dixon would say, if just passing on information is your goal send an email; you will save yourself a lot of effort and both you and the audience a lot of time. Presentations should leave people with something new to think about, inspired and galvanized depending on the circumstances.
Dull presenters are often guilty of these common mistakes
• Copy and pasting an old presentation and then fiddling with it to save time. Whilst there is nothing wrong with reusing old slides it is often simpler and better to start with a clear plan and then fill in with some old and some new slides.
• Writing presentation notes on the slide. As mentioned above you want as few words as possible on the slide. There is a special place for presenters’ notes – use it. You will give a better presentation this way.
• Putting a tiny picture on the slide and a lot of words. I am a huge fan of Garr Reynolds who uses full frame photos and limited text. In this case the image becomes a prompt for each element of the argument. I highly recommend his book Presentation Zen. It will transform your presentations.
• Always using the company template. I know sometimes you are told to do this and you have to suck it up, but ask yourself does every single slide have to be branded? Isn’t there some possibility to break it up with a different style, a visual surprise? How about using the branding only on the chapter headings?
Dull presentations will be lifted by a story or example
More common mistakes:
• No stories, examples or anecdotes. We say it at every possible opportunity but here it is again: tell stories, use examples, and raid your personal life experience or someone else’s to make a point. The scientific evidence is overwhelming – people may be impressed by facts and numbers in the moment but overwhelmingly they remember stories over data. Any stories are good but learning to tell stories properly will improve all your communications.
• No media inserted. In this day and age there is little excuse for not using sound or video in your presentation. Above all remember to keep this short. Just 20-30 seconds of something relevant will lift your presentation from the pedestrian to the entertaining.
• Not rehearsing. Polish comes with rehearsal. 20 minutes rehearsal is ten times more use than 20 minutes chit-chat about what the presentation might cover. Rehearse, revise and rehearse again.
• Over-running your speaking slot. Time yourself in a run-through and then add another 20% – it always takes longer in reality than in rehearsal.
Take every opportunity to practise in front of an audience, your loved one, critical children etc. It’s all valuable.
And of course, if you need help with either a particular presentation, or improving your personal style, the Media Coach team would be delighted to oblige. Just give us a call to discuss on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.
First two pictures used under cc licence from Pixaby
Third picture owned by The Media Coach