Mind Numbing Presentations

By Warren Shiver on Oct 29, 2012

2 Minute Estimated Read Time

I attended multiple conferences this week and witnessed a wide range of presentations and presenters – ranging from the nearly sublime to mind-numbing dull.

In some cases this is an issue with the effective use of technology, notably PowerPoint, where detailed charts and/or 100 words are crammed into a single slide (my profession of consulting is often guilty here). 

What follows isn’t a complete list of do’s and don’ts, just some highlights from a couple of days of listening to presenters and attempting to put many of these lessons into practice myself. 

Some lessons:

  • You don’t know how well you know something until you have to explain it to someone else. If you didn’t create the presentation, take the time to review the slides and develop succinct talking points that do more than regurgitate what’s on the slide.
  • Don’t talk for 10-20 min on one slide, especially if it’s the title slide. Even if your content is incredibly rich, most of your audience will need to see examples, especially data in the form of charts or graphics, displayed on a screen. There are speakers who can pull this off, but unless you possess the story-telling ability of a Malcom Gladwell, don’t try this outside the home.
  • Do insert more check-ins or polls of the group. Neil Rackham did a nice job of inserting “station breaks” into a keynote presentation every 10 minutes to either poll the audience, ask a question, or request the audience to briefly discuss a topic at their tables. Here’s a good posting on this topic.
  • Do tell more stories. As humans, we’re captivated by a good story. I’m still working on this ability myself, because nothing draws in the audience like a good story. Annette Simon’s book The Story Factor is a great look at how to structure and improve your story-telling skills.
  • Do make your presentations more whole-brained. We’re big fans of the HBDI Whole Brain® model on thinking preferences and each presentation should include components that focus on the why, what, how, and who components to make a connection with the audience.
  • Don’t forget to understand your audience in advance. Tailoring your message and content to the levels, roles, and functions represented in the room will result in better relevancy and content that is remembered.
  • Don’t just fill time. It’s ok to end early and you don’t need to keep speaking just to fill the time.
  • Do speak to the audience, not the slides. It’s not a webinar, the audience wants to see you and engage with you. Give them the opportunity.

One of the key themes throughout these points is planning. If it’s worth your time to be up in front of the room, it’s worth your time to invest the time to prepare and practice. The presenters at the TED conferences can pack amazing concepts and stories into 15 minutes, and sometimes spend months preparing. As Thomas Jefferson supposedly said, “If I’d had more time, I would have written less”.

Good luck out there – everyone’s a critic and social media provides a wide-reaching platform, especially mobile, which enables the feedback to go out real-time.

Warren Shiver

Written by Warren Shiver

Warren Shiver is the founder and managing partner of Symmetrics Group, a management consultancy focused on end to end improvement in sales force effectiveness. Through Warren’s leadership, Symmetrics Group has helped numerous organizations build high-performing sales teams focused on the right go-to-market strategy, disciplined sales process and well-designed enabling tools. Clients and consultants appreciate Warren’s uncompromising focus on quality and measureable impact and how he embodies the firm’s core values.

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