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Presenting without Death By PowerPoint

Ugh. We’ve all been in THAT meeting – the person at the front loads up their slide deck, a quick glance at the bottom corner, slide 1 of 78…

Almost everyone slumps at the thought of being smashed repeatedly by slides for the next hour. But why do people do it, when research shows that PowerPoint is one of the least preferred mediums for learning? Is it a generation thing? Is it force of habit? Or is it because that’s what we have been conditioned to accept?

As technology has evolved, the tools we use to communicate and collaborate have changed with it. Microsoft’s movement towards collaboration tools is largely driven by the change in adoption by Gen Z.

As you can see on the chart below, Gen Z generally prefer online chat to any form. Baby boomers still prefer those face to face meetings and emails, as do Gen X and millennial’s – but this is largely down to the technology not being ready at the time they were adopting.

Knowing this, and knowing that the face to face meeting is being squeezed out in favour of other mediums, here are some things to consider when you do present;

  • Know your audience – and by that, I mean know both who you are presenting to, and in what context? If like me you have a habit of adding a little comedy into your deck and pitch, choose your moments. If you have misjudged the people or the scenario, you could come across as a bit unprofessional or not taking it seriously. Make sure you know everything you can about who is going to be in the room, what they are expecting, and the format – a talk in your peer group should be done in a different manner to say, a QBR with a dissatisfied client.
  • Do you really need all those slides? As I mentioned earlier, it can be soul destroying when you realise death by PowerPoint is about to happen. Make your slide deck relevant, if you can’t trim it down, make sure that each slide covers different topics. Seeing three slides about the same point will switch people off.
  • Timing – the tighter your time, the more condensed you need to make your slides. Delivering 10 slides in 15 minutes will make people think half your deck is irrelevant, or worse – they’ll miss key points that you gloss over. If a slide cant have 5 minutes to talk it through, and add context into, you need to think about whether it belongs. Make sure you tailor your talk to your time limit – overrunning or running out of time can kill your talk!
  • Don’t let your slides do the talking – a good presenter will engage people in the room to be focused on them, and what they are saying. If people are reading your slides, they aren’t focusing as much (or any) attention on what you are saying. Use your slides as reference points to keep you on track, or to be a visual aid in supporting your point. People like to visualise the point, well timed pictures or charts can allow you to control both the context, and the visualisation of your point.
  • Nobody likes being talked at. Its dull, and no matter how good you are, people will get bored. A great tip i learned, is to keep the engagement with your audience. Break it up with a question, even a rhetorical one, that keeps your crowd alert. If the situation allows, try to make the talk interactive – talk directly to subjects in the room, or raise a point about something that gets people invested – referencing something that people agree with or want to talk about keeps your point front and centre.
  • Humour can be disarming – as I talked about earlier, if humour is well placed and well timed, it can lighten the mood, break the ice, calm any nerves, and win over doubters. I presented recently to my peer group of nearly 100, and I found adding little comments that generated a laugh or a smile helped calm any nerves I had, and helped me to bond with my audience.
  • What is your point? Any presentation or pitch needs a clear point. People in the room want to know what they are here for, and why you are relevant to them. Be sure that not only have you made this clear, but you continually reinforce it throughout. They need to leave feeling that they got what you told them they would get..
  • Numbers – confession time, I am huge data nerd. I love my stats, and i continually use them to track, monitor and measure. But data isn’t always the be all – anyone can use stats to prove their point. Don’t believe me? Watch when Gartner’s magic quadrant is delivered, and see the various companies that proclaim Gartner made them the best in their industry. 8 of you cant all be #1… If you do use numbers, make them specific and relevant, and make sure if you include the numbers, you can evidence where they came from..
  • Presenting is a hunter skill – people gloss over this point, but the truly effective hunter knows that a captive audience means there is a ‘kill’ at the end. Those speakers who deliver well know that their presentation is also their opportunity to close. Don’t dismiss the opportunity that sitting in front of prospective clients, bosses and partners gives you.
  • The sign off – a tricky piece to get right. Lots of good presentations I have watched either end abruptly, or circle the drain until winding down. Its at this point that people start to worry about how they came across – put as much thought into how you end as how you talk, because this could be the lasting memory everyone takes from the talk. Have clear defined next stage actions, confirm the points raised, and make sure that you don’t just do the “any questions?” It leaves you open to silence, or a barrage – and as a closed question, its not how you want to finish. Instead, think about a line such as “Thank you for your time, i’d really like to cover off any specifics with you know, so we can agree next actions”.

Finally, if in doubt – Dilbert comics work a treat..

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