There are two parts to a presentation: your message, and how you transmit that message to your audience. Too often a good message can get lost in the static of a bad transmission.
Not long ago I was on the receiving end of this unfortunate combination. To help us all be better communicators, here is what happened, and five presentation tips you can use to make sure the signal you are sending comes through loud and clear.
Into the Echo Chamber
One of my nieces was on a local competitive dance team, and we had a chance to watch a practice. Between events, a coach came out to give the audience of parents an informational presentation about new rules and procedure changes.
There were many things that were very good about this presentation: The topic was appropriate. The audience was interested. The speaker clearly knew the subject matter and spoke with confidence. She had even circulated a handout in advance.
But despite these advantages, the message was garbled. One of the big challenges was the location: a basketball court. Here are some of the issues the location created, and remedies we can all apply regardless of the venue we find ourselves in.
5 Presentation Tips
Issue 1. We all got to watch as the speaker wheeled out an audio-visual cart, warmed up and focused the projector, loaded the correct file, and launched the slideshow. She clearly knew what she was doing. But doing the setup in full view of your audience is a good way to lose their attention quickly.
Remedy: Be prepared. Pre-load and test everything ahead of time; have everything ready. Get someone to help if necessary. Starting quickly and efficiently sets a positive tone for your talk and demonstrates your capabilities as a leader.
Issue 2. Lacking a screen, she chose to project against a wall. Unfortunately, that wall was on the other side of the basketball court. Even when she backed the projection cart to the limit of its power cable, the slides were indistinct and she had to talk to us across a vast echoing expanse. It was hard to hear and see.
Remedy: Close the gap. To have a chance of connecting with your audience, you need to be able to see them, and they need to be able to see you. Stay close, even if you have to find other ways to present information. In this case, a closer screen or more handouts may have been more effective.
Issue 3. As she was giving her presentation, two other people were sitting and standing behind her. Sometimes they were paying attention, but at other times they were chatting or looking around. They weren’t making much noise, but they didn’t have to in order to be an effective distraction.
Remedy: Control the setting. Remove distractions to keep the audience focused on you and what you are trying to communicate.
Issue 4. There were less than 10 slides, but most of them looked like a massive wall of text: it was the classic Shotgun Slide. Bullet points had become endless run-ons; the print on the charts was so small as to be indecipherable even close up. The distance made having the slides pointless – they detracted from rather than added to her message.
Remedy: Keep it simple. Summarize key points with short bullets one line long; test your projector at full range to be sure what you are showing is legible and understandable; sit and look from the audience’s perspective.
Issue 5. With so many words on the slide, the coach couldn’t help but face the slide and read parts of it to us. But doing this makes it appear that you don’t know what you are talking about. Reading to your audience is condescending. And turning your back severs the connection you are trying to establish with your audience.
Remedy: Talk to the people. Face the audience, make eye contact, and talk to them. Try not to look at the slides at all. Make note cards if you need to. Rehearse what you plan to say.
What Went Right?
Even with all this static, it’s good to keep in mind the many things she did well.
Brevity. The coach was brief. She stuck to her main points, made them, and ended.
Knowledge. She knew her topic well. There’s nothing like competence to instill confidence.
Handouts. The handout was a big help. She armed us with a tool we could take with us and refer to later.
Presentation Tips – The Takeaway
This wasn’t a pitch for a major contract, or an attempt to change people’s minds. It was a simple informational presentation. And you could argue that with all that she did right, she got her points across. Maybe that’s enough.
But if you are looking for clarity, want to appear professional, and if the message is important, do a little more. When you spend some time thinking about the venue and your audience before you build your presentation, you have a much better chance of cutting through the static and sending a message that comes through loud and clear.
Sometimes you might not need to waste time on PowerPoint at all.