How to stop people reading your slides while you're presenting

Easy!
Don't put any damn words on them!!

The best picture I can find about PowerPoint abuse is from Presentation Zen



I wouldn't have made an entry about this except that on Thursday a guy at work came up to me and honestly said
"I wish I could stop people from reading my slides!...I try to flip through faster, but they always catch up."

This is seriously old news, but it bears repeating:
If you are doing a presentation, it's more work, but gives a much better result if YOU do the presenting instead of PowerPoint.

No words (or very few words) for a presentation is hard work, but it means the following things: -
  • It means you have to do the work of distilling out your main points
  • It means you have to do the work of figuring out how to get them across memorably
  • It means you can't have someone else 'make your slides' and then swoop in and read them like a teleprompter
  • It means you can't hide behind content and 'blind them with science' ... or even blind them with quantity...science or not
  • It means you have to respect your audience enough to rehearse
  • It means you have to do the work of possibly creating an additional document to accompany your presentation if more information is required

Easy, right?

  • It sounds logical, but lots of people don't do it.
  • It sounds like a no-brainer, but lots of people don't do it.
  • It sounds like yesterday's news (especially if you're reading this blog or anything written by any of my clarity heroes, but again, lots of people don't do it.

The good news is, there's loads of help around:
If you think you might be able to use some help stopping people reading your slides when you present, despair not. Just link to ANY of the Clarity Heroes listed in the sidebar on the right and start reading their stuff. It's brilliant.

I'd start with the presentation tips from Garr Reynolds. And then never stop.

6 comments:

  1. Fantastic blog Greg!

    Regurgitation of information is the past.

    Clarity of information is the future.

    Our clients deserve it and they will increasingly demand more clarity in a world where mis-information is prevalent.

    The winners will simply be clear; the losers confusing and confused.

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  2. HI Martin - thanks for the compliment! It's very gratifying to know that you like the blog. It's a bit of a labour of love, and it's great when someone like you puts in a comment that tells me we're on the same wavelength.

    If you have any stories of really excellent clarity in action you've seen, please let me know - I'll post them up!

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  3. It's interesting though that one thing's missing from nearly all the web commentary about presentation (and I include here Garr's generally excellent site). And that is comment on what constitutes the vast majority of presentations actually happening on the average day: university lectures. These are information-rich, where mantras like 'avoid blocks of text on slides' are impractical, and which have to be produced fast by people without extensive graphic design skills (and we surely don't want our best researchers to be diverted away from research to polish their GD).

    By comparison, 'management' presentations, TED talks etc are fluffy, vague, and unsystematic, so are easy to make engaging and pretty. As a result they get talked about most. But they're really the softest target. Academics have a harder time making presentations clear and engaging. In my experience, the more they try, the worse it gets; so far nothing has beaten the traditional uncompromising word-dense lecture for presenting challenging material (which isn't to say that better means won't yet be devised).

    Thoughts?

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  4. CB - thanks for your comment - and some very serious challenges in there, particularly around the difficulty of getting complex and dense information across without causing people to want to commit suicide.

    I agree - in some cases certain business presentations present an easier subject matter for techniques like presentation zen. Particularly when the business message is a more emotional one (buy this product...it makes you cool) than a technical one (ERP systems should be integrated with manufacturing execution systems ensuring continuity of data flows in these 17 dimensions...)

    Indeed, presenting detailed information was even listed by Nancy Duarte of Slide:ology (the people who coached Al Gore when he did the Inconvenient Truth presentations) as one of the big challenges for 2009.

    For me, two things spring to mind (and I'm probably guilty of some recency bias) and those are these:

    As far as technology solutions: Check out Prezi. (www.prezi.com) It promises to be a way to navigate loads of data in a more flexible, engaging (and crucially) non-linear way compared to powerpoint. Something like that could at least allow a more fluid interaction with data that might follow the flow of classroom discussion more than a slide deck would allow.

    Second, as far as presentation style goes, while I agree that a couple of pictures doesn't allow a lecturer to convey lots of information - I'm with you: Writing it all up on slides can hardly be the answer. What could be less engaging than reading along with a lecturer while they read their slides. There's absolutely nothing wrong with handouts (or textbooks) for pre-and post-reading and just having a lecturer TALK for the whole period. Very often presentations would be better with no slides or any kind of visual aids at all. Of course then, it's just down to the presenter and the way they've organised and signposted what they're saying, and whether they're just dumping data or whether they've synthesised the great, compelling and memorable points.

    In cases like that, I think techniques like storytelling and the fabrication of real-life examples and analogies are more potent presentation tools than slides or movies etc... And there's absolutely nothing stopping a person with zero graphic design skills putting some thought into making their topic compelling through techniques like that. (When I went to university, I remember a professor who nearly never used powerpoint (or overheads in those days), but managed to make his 3-hour lectures on macroeconomics - of all the masochistic things to which a person might subject themselves - so compelling and engaging that the 300-seat lecture theatre always had people sitting in the aisles. Even people not registered for the course.

    Oh, would that there were more like him.
    (To Larry Smith - thanks again!)

    Greg.

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  5. Greg, thanks for your thoughts. They are refreshingly undoctrinaire.

    I've already had a look at Prezi (prompted by your post about it), and think that it's a promising innovation.

    I agree also more than I could possibly express about the pointlessless of large slabs of PP text. I think there's even some cog sci evidence that reading text whilst hearing someone else read it reduces comprehension and memory for the content.

    A problem is that in today's visual culture, (young) students just *expect* there to be something to look at, and get distractible and fidgety if there isn't. Certainly there are exceptional individual speakers who can win even a hard audience over with, as you say, creative and lively use of examples etc; but we can't expect all (even brilliant) researchers to *also* be exceptionally engaging and witty in person.

    So there's nothing you're saying that I disagree with. But I think that (at least for the drier subjects) we're in the midst of a cultural change, and means of presenting/lecturing haven't really caught up. The downside of this is that there is something slightly unsatisfying (and I think educationally moot) about most university lectures (I speak as a current 'mature' graduate student). The upside is that it's a field screaming for innovation, and there are great opportunities for anyone with the ideas and talent to create new approaches.

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  6. A problem is that in today's visual culture, (young) students just *expect* there to be something to look at, and get distractible and fidgety if there isn't. Certainly there are exceptional individual speakers who can win even a hard audience over with, as you say, creative and lively use of examples etc; but we can't expect all (even brilliant) researchers to *also* be exceptionally engaging and witty in person.

    ReplyDelete

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