I was recently involved in a 1.5 day presentation skills workshop (Simon Banks style). It was part of a 4-day offsite for 30 senior leaders from a communications company and this was in the middle of their 4 days. To kick off the workshop, one of the great ideas that the client had was for each team member to deliver a 5-minute presentation about their role at work. They were given the task the day before so had 24 hours to put this together.

The thought was that the presentations’ would be delivered well within 3 hours and be all over by lunchtime at the latest. All of the presentations were to be reviewed by the audience with feedback handed out on cards at the end of the session. As this scenario played out and the audience and I watched 30 presentations, we learnt some great things about what to do and what not to do when presenting. Of more importance (and sadly), we experienced what really intelligent people default to once they hear the words, “Please deliver a presentation on…’

This is what we experienced

Slow torture through the use of PowerPoint:

The great majority of people created notes in PowerPoint and then read these out to the audience. As such, their back was towards the audience about 50% of the time. Each 5-minute presentation had between 6 – 20 slides that were mostly notes. This was absolutely excruciating to be part of.

Timing becomes irrelevant

The thoughts were that with 30 x 5 minute presentations and some extra time would finish in 3 hours or around 12:00pm. We finished at 3:45pm. The longest presentation went for 17 minutes!! What was going on? Had everyone completely lost any idea of how time is measured? How can 5 minutes become 17 minutes?

The use of filler words such as ‘ummm, ahhhh, ohhhh, but, so’ were everywhere As this was part of the feedback we were giving to each participant, the audience was really on the look out for these. As a note, my filler word is ‘so’

Frying the brain through the use of PowerPoint (see point 1)

For the majority of the presentations, PowerPoint text was the only stimulus. No pictures, nothing kinesthetic, nothing auditory. The audience staying seated throughout.

Sounds quite bad hey? There were some great presentations in the morning but I would say about 15% were in the great category, as an absolute maximum. Not great for a senior leadership team? But this story has a very happy ending. The second part of this activity was that they would re-present back to everyone the next day

As you would expect with a room of highly intelligent people, after sitting through these presentations, there were some great insights and feedback around what to do and what not to do.

What Next?

As we were 4 hrs. overtime, we had to squeeze about 4 hrs. of program content and audience preparation for the next day into 45 minutes. So we collectively came up with the top 5 points that we needed to address for the next day. PowerPoint was a much bigger issue than I had imagined so this was the biggest point to address. Which made me think of a great TV show…

Pretend that you are in Mad Men

Yes you are in a 1960’s era advertising company and that you are going to give a huge presentation to a key client next week. As part of this, you need to get your illustrator/designer to put together some charts/boards to use as part of your pitch. Do you ask them to write up the text for your presentation and you then read these out to the audience?

Hell no! You ask them to design visual aids that will reinforce your key points and enable your audience to be engaged and understand what you are talking about! PowerPoint is absolutely crap for learning. Studies show that our brain struggles to learn through trying to read the words and listen to a presenter reading them at the same time. If it’s making a powerful point, great. If not, get rid of it from your screen. PowerPoint is not your presentation. You are not a PowerPoint junkie. You can get by without it. Your audience will think you are a bloody legend for not using it. You are better than that.

Big opening, big finish

You have to accept that a lot of what you say will be forgotten. After watching 30 presentations, what was remembered were the great openings and the great finishes. Start with a bang, summarise your 3 key points at the end and finish on a high.

Tell a story

People love to listen to stories. They are engaging. We connect with them and they enable powerful recall. Our mind goes ‘thank God, not another PowerPoint Presentation’ and feels happy. Metaphor’s, analogies, examples, case studies are all part of the great story family.

Use stimulus to engage your audience and help make your key points

This can literally be anything. It may be music, a real life model, an animation, a movie, a photo, a graph, anything really as long as it helps make your point. The director of the company hid beneath a blanket on the first day for part of his presentation and this was fantastic. It was such a strong metaphor. There wasn’t any PowerPoint at all. It illustrated his point in a clear and concise manner, it engaged the audience and most importantly, everyone remembered it! I can still clearly remember what it was about.

Your presentation HAS to be about your audience

Put yourself in their shoes. Is what you are saying really interesting to them? Are you speaking in their language? Do they like looking at your back? Do they like your mumbling? If your presentation is all about you typing out your notes so that you can read to them and your emphasis has been on your font size and clipart; is this really what your audience want’s to hear? Always sit where your audience will be.
As said, this story has a very happy ending. With a new time limit of 3 minutes, the presentations the next day were fantastic. The improvement from the day before was just outstanding. The presentations were engaging. They were energetic. There was humour. The presenters all seemed happier and relaxed. 16 slides of text went to 2 or none at all. Slides appeared that were text free. Unbelievable!

The great presenters were even better and funnier than the day before. And everyone went to time. 15 minute presentations became 3 minute presentations with no loss of important information. The important stuff was said without the waffle. The ummh’s and ahh’s were hardly there. It was great to be part of.

Sum Up

So, what’s the moral of this story? Many highly intelligent people have a very poor default position the moment that they hear the word presentation. It’s straight to typing out their notes on PowerPoint and then proceeding to torture their audience for a negative outcome all around. The great news is that this can easily be broken, and your presentations can quickly go from crap to enjoyable. Recognising your default position is the first step.

So, what’s your default position for presentations? Maybe it’s time to check in.

Simon Banks

About the Author

Simon Banks is an Author. International Keynote speaker and Podcaster on creativity and innovation and recovering Artist. He’s delivered over 1400+ events across the globe and is known for running innovation workshops, conferences and design sprints to brew fresh thinking and solve wicked problems. His book A Thousand Little Lightbulbs: How to kickstart a culture of Innovation in your Organisation is out now.

Get in touch here

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