Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PowerPoint Tip: More results from the Annoying PowerPoint Survey

I’ve already reported on what audiences find most annoying based on the survey completed by 548 people. The text overload epidemic continues and the number one annoyance again is the presenter reading the slides to the audience.

I’ve now gone through the hundreds of comments that people wrote in – it took up nine pages of 10 point type! It is clear that the annoyances extend beyond just the overload of text. The comments did reinforce the text issue, with many expressing frustration at reports that are copied on to slides and read to the audience. But here are five more areas that presenters need to address in order to improve their presentations.

Poor Presentation Skills
The comments were very clear that this is a big issue. One respondent captured it well when they said, “The presenter lets the technology, not the content, become primary.” Audiences get annoyed when the presenter places more importance on the slides than the basics of communication, such as proper structure and delivery skills. Many people echoed the idea that the slides should support the message, not the presenter supporting the slides. This shows up in presentations in a number of ways, from presenters having way too many slides for the time allotted, presenters using canned slides without analyzing the needs of the audience, to not knowing how to use the technology. It is imperative that presenters get training on the basics of communicating a clear message and presentation skills in order to understand that PowerPoint should just be a tool to support their message, not the message itself.

Presenters not being prepared
The second most commented area was presenters who were not prepared either on the topic or the slides. Many comments talked about presenters who were not knowledgeable about the topic they were speaking about and relied on reading the slides since it was all they knew on this subject. My advice has always been to decline invitations to present where you are not knowledgeable. You embarras yourself and your organization. It was also clear that too many presenters don’t even run through the slides a single time before getting up in front of the audience. When you fumble through what is on each slide, you say to the audience that they are not important enough for you to have spent even thirty minutes preparing for this presentation. You would be better off e-mailing it to them. Again, it looks like we have to educate many presenters on the basics of preparing to communicate a message.

Non-professional graphics and use of animation
While these areas were covered partially by the main question on the survey, the third most popular area of comments dealt with the graphics and animation that makes the presenter look silly. The presenter may think it is “cute” or “cool”, but the audience certainly has a different opinion. They look at the cartoonish clip art, joke slides, garish colors, unnecessary reflections or shadows and effects such as 3-D and they immediately think less of the presenter and the ideas they are sharing. Remember that your audience is comparing your visuals to the professional ones that others use and in that light you will come up short of the mark. Everything you use in your presentation should demonstrate your professional approach and expert position on this topic. Don’t undermine your stature with amateurish selection of visuals or wacky animation effects.

Packing too much on a slide
The issue of text overload has been clearly articulated, but the comments also showed a dislike for packing a slide with graphics and tables or spreadsheets. When there are too many graphics on a slide, the audience is confused as to how they relate to one another and they miss the point you are trying to make. With large spreadsheets that have been pasted on the slide, the audience has no hope of figuring out what is there or what it means to them. That is why I suggest using the break down and zoom in technique to explain complex visuals.

Poor or non-existent template design
The final issue that was popular in the comments was the impact template design plays on the audience’s ability to listen and understand the message being delivered. As people said in the comments they wrote, when there are many fonts, titles change position, bullet points aren’t lined up, colors don’t seem to have meaning and the design leaves little room for content because of advertising and graphics, people get distracted from the message. In my experience there are two issues here. The first is the presenters who use no template or one of the distracting built-in templates. At least create a simple, clean one that is easy on the eyes. The second issue is with the templates designed by professionals who are good at design but don’t know how to create a proper PowerPoint template. It causes the presenters to manually adjust the position of objects to make it work, and most presenters aren’t designers, so what results is an inconsistent mish-mash on the slides. Every organization who pays a design professional (in-house or from the outside) to create a PowerPoint template must ensure that they know how to create the template so it is easy to use by the presenters.

As I said recently in a keynote presentation at a conference, the single biggest issue I face (and every presentation professional faces) is convincing presenters that they need help. For the most part, they have no idea that they are doing things that annoy the audience. Once they identify themselves with items on this list, I hope they will seek some help and stop annoying their audiences in future presentations. Share this with those who could benefit from this information.


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