What do I define as a presentation? In the broadest sense, it’s every encounter you have with every person you ever meet.
A presentation doesn’t necessarily mean standing in front of a crowd with a projector. It could be when you sit squirming in an interviewer’s chair trying to be eloquent when asked why you left your last job.
More specifically, however, I’m going to talk about the business presentation. Whenever you are asked to appear in front of one or more people for the purpose of explaining, educating, convincing, or otherwise conveying information to them, you have a presentation.
Compressed to its essence, a presentation consists of four basic elements: you, your audience, your message and your tools.
In this series, we’ll look at each one, starting off with planning for your visuals and support materials. Later, we’ll look at presentation and speaking techniques, attitudes, travel disasters and other problems faced by both the professional and the occasional presenter.
Visual Presentations – General Guidelines (Your Tools)
The central purpose of any presentation, written, oral or visual, is communication. To communicate effectively, you must state your facts in a simple, concise and interesting manner.
It is proven that the people learn more readily and retain more information when learning is reinforced by visualization. You can entertain, inform, excite and even shock an audience by the proper integration of visual images into virtually any exchange of information.
Meetings which might normally be considered dull, or a chore to be avoided, can be transformed into exciting productions that grab the attention of the viewers.
This type of presentation maximizes audience retention of the subject matter. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” has existed since the New York Post discovered the value of visuals in the news business. This remains true to this day.
Simple, clear, concise visual images, briskly paced and sprinkled with attention-grabbing graphics will lend support to your spoken words. This leaves your audience with a positive attitude toward you and your product, service or proposal.
Visuals in business should be used in support of the spoken or written word, and not in lieu of it. A well-developed concept and effective script are the essential elements of any presentation. Regardless of their form, they should be the first and most important phase of its development. When the concept begins to take final form, the visuals are developed around it.
This is not to imply that A-V design should be placed near the end of the project. You must begin mentally planning your visuals at the beginning of the design process.
Hastily designed and produced visuals can doom a presentation (and a presenter,) where well planned and executed images add tremendous strength.
You can easily communicate concepts that are difficult to grasp through the intelligent use of professionally produced visuals. This allows the freedom to communicate more complex subject matter in a more efficient manner, adding support and impact to your script.
Finally, your presentation should be entertaining. Leave the audience feeling better and more relaxed when they leave and that impression will carry over to both your subject matter and yourself. There is no logical reason that the presentation of routine sales figures and financial reports should not be as exciting as the unveiling of a new product or a first rate service proposal.
The Key Steps
1. KNOW YOUR SUBJECT MATTER
While this first point may seem obvious, it is very important that you research every nuance of your subject. Read reports and look up information about the subject with the specific purpose of writing a presentation script. When examined in this light, new ideas and alternative ways of thinking often develop. The ability to present a subject with confidence directly affects your audience’s impressions and will help keep their attention.
This is especially important when giving a design presentation or proposal since you are in effect selling” your ideas to the audience. This applies whether the audience is a potential client or your own board of directors.
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
A small amount of research into the makeup of your audience will reap large benefits on presentation day.
If you were traveling about speaking on behalf of a new construction project you would tailor vastly different presentations to an audience of engineers and a city council. You’d should also have a couple of other versions for local community activist groups. (depending on whether they’re for or against the project)
Before you ‘re-purpose’ your Teamsters speech for use at the Baptist Building Fund make the obvious adjustments and then carefully review your content from the ‘philosophical’ viewpoint of your audience. (related to Know Your Limits Below)
If a small amount of research will help you, imagine what a moderate amount will do!
3. KNOW YOURSELF (and your limits)
We all must push our limits and willingly bite off more than we may be comfortable swallowing on occasion — this is how we learn and grow. Knowing a few of your limits, however, might avert disaster, or at least embarrassment.
Intimately related to Know Your Audience above, your ‘limits’ are just where you may or may not tread, depending on the makeup of your audience and your relationship with them.
Just because the Mormons laughed when Whoopee Goldberg said or did something doesn’t mean you can pull it off. The Presbyterians might think it amusing while the Baptists call it blasphemy. In fact, I’m certain the the mere mention of specific ‘denominations’ here will generate angry E-mail. (See also, the Devil is in the Details later on)
George Carlin, Tom Peters, Billy Graham, Al Sharpton and a host of others can get away with, and even receive praise and applause for saying or doing things that would get you or me tarred, feathered, sued or booed by our respective audiences.
4. DEVELOP A THEME
All presentations, regardless of their complexity, are designed with a single purpose. Whether that purpose is to sell, educate, or for pure entertainment, state that purpose to yourself at the beginning of the development process. Keep this purpose in mind always.
5. PREPARE YOUR SCRIPT
The script does not necessarily have to be a work of literary excellence. For some, simple notes on 3 x 5 file cards are sufficient. Other presenters and presentations require a carefully composed, professionally developed script. The exact form of the script depends on the formality of the presentation, the make up of the audience and who will be presenting it. Any presentation script, regardless of complexity is like any other business correspondence. It should consist of the same four basic parts, an opening, body, summary and closing.
- THE OPENING
The opening of the presentation sets the stage for what is to follow. Participants are introduced and the purpose of the presentation is stated. You should also present a VERY BRIEF summary or outline of the points to be covered. This helps keep your audience oriented properly within the framework of your script.
This is the part of the script in which the bulk of the subject matter is presented. The body of a long presentation should be separated into smaller, easily assimilated modules. Each module or sub-section should make a single point or convey one idea. These sub-sections should each have their own simple opening, body and summary.
This portion should be very brief and simple. Here is your chance to reinforce the central theme and purpose of your presentation. Briefly emphasize the key points and main ideas of your script in this section.There is an old axiom that says … “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” This pretty well sums it up.
Question and answer sessions often follow a final summary and are very productive if managed properly. You should encourage questions from the audience if time or format permits, but be prepared to answer them. If you do not know the correct answer to a question, don’t try to fake it. You should refer the question to someone who can answer it correctly or make a note to yourself to obtain the answer later. When you do, contact the person or persons who asked it as soon as possible. This makes an excellent door opener for follow up calls.
Old Speaker’s Trick: If you Don’t want any questions, look the audience over and ask if there are any questions. This puts pressure on the audience and makes many of them choke, and therefore, not respond.
In a well structured closing, points raised during the question and answer session (if any) are summarized and any handout material that was not required during the presentation is distributed. Handout material which emphasizes each key point or idea permits your audience to review the subject and assures that your words will remain fresh in their minds. Handout material should not be distributed before a presentation unless it is critical to the theme since it invariably leads to audience distraction.
6. SELECT THE PROPER VISUAL AIDS
With the script developed and the audience research completed, this decision should be simple. A five minute presentation to a three person audience is probably best made with handout material alone, or even simple flip charts.
The 35mm Slide is essentially dead and buried beside the overhead transparency, so I’ve taken the liberty of removing those references. If you are still using these media, please consider moving into the current century.
The resolution, brightness and price of Computer/Video projectors means that home-brew laptop based video projector presentations are now the norm. I have a Ten-Year old projector in the attic. The cost of a replacement bulb for that machine is more than a new, brighter, sharper and smaller unit today.
The design workstations of the 90′s running suites of complex four and five-figure software on five and six-figure computers gave way to laptops with PowerPoint and the free software that came with your three-figure digital still/video camera.
If PowerPoint™ and similar charting and presentation software is a bit rich for your budget, you may find the free, open-source office suite, Open Office fits your bill perfectly. Distributed free of charge by Sun, the Open Office Suite includes a Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Database and a Presentation program. Open Office is largely compatible with Microsoft Office™, and again, you can’t beat the price. Download a copy here, you won’t be disappointed.
To help justify the purchase of your projector, keep in mind, most of the new ones accept input from a TV, DVD, HDMI or other video source. When not serving as a presentation tool you can have a huge-screen TV, limited only by the size of the wall onto which it’s projected. (Can we say Super Super-Bowl Party?)
Major presentations at annual meetings, trade shows, sales conferences, and presentations to stockholders or client proposals might still dictate an all out effort with professionally produced special effects, video and all manner of glitz and expense.
Tablet Computers are becoming popular presentation tools for small groups, informal meetings and remote learning. One of the disadvantages of streaming your presentation to tablets or laptops in the audience is that those attendees tend to develop tunnel vision. Your vocal inflections and body language, both important communications tools, may end up outside of their sensory sphere.
Good presentation visuals, regardless of the display medium, do not have to be expensive. When properly planned and produced, simple, well designed graphics add professionalism and impact to virtually any show.
The proper use of text images, charts and graphs as well as the correct type of chart or graph to use in various circumstances is the subject of another article in this series. I will, however, touch on a few of the deadly design sins of presentation visuals a bit later.
7. PREPARE A STORY BOARD
A story board does not have to be complicated or time consuming to prepare. Its main purpose is to give a general view of the presentation and communicate the important items to the technicians and artists who are creating and assembling the images.
You can make your story board using file cards and post- it notes, or opt for a comprehensive color story board, prepared by professional designers. Changes at the story board level are relatively inexpensive since no images have been produced. During the story board phase you can rehearse the script and easily rearrange, revise, delete from and add to your presentation. When your story board reaches final form it becomes the finished draft for your presentation. This is one of the most important design tools used to produce your graphics.
The final story board should consist of a sketch of each individual image, in sufficient detail to convey its approximate finished appearance. If more detailed instructions are needed to create an image than can be clearly conveyed on the story board, individual layout sheets should be prepared. These sheets should specify colors, formats, fonts and values for graphs and charts.
If specific artwork or photographs must be used in an image, they should be clearly indicated on the story board or layout sheet for that image.
8. PRODUCE THE VISUALS
If the previous steps have been carefully followed, this can be the easiest part of preparing your presentation.
With careful, timely planning, the only task remaining is mechanical process of production. The complete and accurate planning that you have done to this point assures a smooth production cycle without the need for unnecessary last minute changes. This is true whether you use Magic Markers to draw flip charts on a newsprint pad or require a nine projector presentation with live satellite video.
Today’s presentation software allow last minute changes and additions that could not be accomplished using any other method of production. While last minute changes are possible, avoiding them can still help cut the cost of your presentation by eliminating revision and rush fees.
Your final script and outline or story board permit you to rehearse your presentation even before the visuals are completed. This assures that when your final images are prepared and ready, you will be as well.
If you’d like to really test your mettle, drag out the camcorder and tape your rehearsal. Just keep in mind, no one expects you to be Winston Churchill.
10. PRESENTATION DAY
On the day of the presentation, arrive and set up early. Have spare projector bulbs and extra copies of the handout material close at hand.
You have your visuals, you are well rehearsed, the room is set up and the participants are all prepared. Speak clearly and with authority. A little humor if tastefully added can help break the tension of the moment. There should be no surprises. Make certain that the audience questions have been addressed, and of course, thank everyone for attending.
11. FOLLOW UP
Check back with the attendants and participants to assure that your presentation goals were met. A questionnaire distributed at the end of your presentation can be a source of critical information for follow up calls or future presentations. Encourage the attendants to call or write with any questions that they did not get answered during the presentation.
Some Deadly Sins
The Illegible Image.
Images not clearly seen by the entire audience add confusion and distraction. If you have to say “I know you can’t read this but…..,” why include the visual at all? The more eagle-eyed viewers may take exception to your attack on their literacy, while others are attempting to see what is on the screen. They cannot be expected to be paying full attention to what is being said while straining to read the visual,
One popular rule of thumb is the “8H” rule of legibility. In a nutshell, if you can read an image from eight times its height, odds are your audience will be able to read it when projected. As an example…. You have a flip chart which is 2 feet high. If you can read the chart from 16 feet away, that chart will probably be legible when converted to a slide and/or projected. 35 millimeter slides are about an inch in height. If you can read a slide from 8 inches distance, that slide will be legible under most presentation conditions. Likewise, if you can read an 8-1/2″ high print from a distance of Five Feet (8″ high by 8) it will probably be legible to an average audience.
The Useless Image:
Images should be designed to please the mind as well as the eye of the viewer. If an image has no specific place or purpose in a presentation other than “it is pretty”, it should probably be removed.
The Overly Complex Image:
More images with fewer ideas on each are better than a few images which are complicated or difficult to understand. A single idea or set of facts per image, timed to the speaker’s pace will add punch and emphasis to each important idea assuring maximum retention.
Most people are easily bored, and one generally accepted rule of thumb states that if an image remains on the screen longer than 7 to 10 seconds, you begin to lose viewer attention.
Closely related to the previous deadly sins, “chartjunk” was coined to identify confusing elements which really have no place on the image. Many presenters insist on having a glaring colored logo in the corner of every image.
While a common element can add continuity to a presentation, blazing logos and distracting objects can detract from the message — after all, isn’t the message what it’s all about?
A first cousin to chartjunk, “chartoons” are overly cute attempts to make a presentation appear more professional by adding lots of distracting, tacky, aggravating symbols and such. These usually appear right after a presenter has discovered a clip art library.
Ransom Note Design:
Just because you have access to 350 fonts does not mean that you are required to use them. A single font throughout an entire presentation is usually quite sufficient. Use bold, italic, underline, quotations and/or color changes to emphasize or subdue key points or words.
Calico or Crazy Quilt Graphics:
Keep the colors to a minimum. A single background color throughout a presentation lends an air of continuity. You can separate broad sections of a presentation by changing background colors, but keep the changes to a minimum. Unless your purpose is to shock or grab serious attention, try to keep all background colors within the same color family.
Mixed Visual Metaphors:
You should not mix your metaphors when you speak, so please don’t mix them in your graphics without specific purpose. You would not use warm colors in an image whose subject was ice hockey unless you wanted to emphasize the warm comfortable environment of the arena.
The Devil is in the Details:
This is closely related to Know Your Audience. While I’m not suggesting that you nit-pick and perfect every nuance of detail, but you never know when an unforeseen gotcha will turn up.
Keep these suggestions in mind throughout the design and development process and you will dramatically improve the quality of your presentation. The production process will go more smoothly, the budget will not be broken, and your nerves can take a well deserved rest.