Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Presentation Tip: Presenting a recommendation

In most cases, there is more than one possible solution for a problem. When you have been asked to investigate possible solutions and present your recommendation, you want the decision makers to act on that recommendation. In this article I will discuss how to make the presentation effective and get them to take action.

The one mistake that too many presenters make in this situation is to think that the audience wants to see everything you did to come up with the recommendation. They don’t need to see all the analysis. They need to see the conclusions you drew from that analysis, but not all the details. Focus your analysis on answering the question, “What conclusion can I draw from the research, calculations, and thinking that has been done?”

How do you structure a presentation that gives a recommendation? I suggest that you start with the recommendation itself. Decision makers don’t want this to be like a mystery novel where you reveal the recommendation at the end. If you want them to take action, you need to give them time to think and get comfortable with your conclusion. You can start by explaining what your recommendation is and that in the presentation you will explain how you came to that conclusion.

In making your decision between the different options, you will have used some criteria in order to rank the options against each other. Review the criteria used to come to the recommendation. Explain how each of the criteria is relevant to the decision. Explain whether any criteria had greater weight in the decision and how weighting the criteria helped make a better decision between the options. Get agreement from the decision makers that the criteria and weightings are reasonable for making this decision.

Next you can discuss which options were in the short list of options that you considered. It is likely that you had a large list of possible solutions and reduced it to a short list because some options were clearly not going to work and did not warrant the full analysis on the selected criteria. If you need to, give a short description of each solution in case some are not familiar with each one. Consider whether you want to get agreement from the decision makers that the options you considered are the correct ones to have analyzed. This is not always necessary or advisable since the decision makers may not be as familiar with the options that are available and may introduce unnecessary discussions at this point.

Now that you have explained the criteria and the options, you can show how each option measured up against the criteria. I suggest you use a comparison table to show this all in one slide. The table has the criteria in the left-most column. Then you have one column for each option considered. The column shows how that option measured up on the criteria listed in the first column. There may be some measurements that are numeric, in which case the number should go in that cell of the table. If it is more of a yes/no evaluation for a criteria, consider using a checkmark to indicate that the option met the criteria and leave the cell blank if the option did not meet the criteria. This makes it easier to see where an option did not meet some criteria because the blank cells stand out.

I suggest you build this table one option at a time so you have an opportunity to discuss the measurements with the decision makers. If you put all the columns on at the start, you will find it hard to focus the audience because they will be trying to interpret the whole table. Some people say that you should save the recommended option for the last column. That is not as much of an issue if you started the presentation by letting them know what the recommendation was already. Order the options in a way that makes sense so the audience sees your analysis as logical and supportive of the recommendation.

Now that you have shown how you arrived at the recommendation, it is time to ask for the decision. Don’t think that just because your analysis has been solid that the audience will know that you are asking for their decision. Don’t assume they know what you want them to do. Ask them to approve the recommendation. It is at this point that they will have a discussion with you to confirm any concerns they have and ask any questions about your work. You should leave with an agreed action plan, even if it is that you need to look at a few more items before final approval is given.

In a workshop earlier this year I explained this method of showing a recommended option and did a slide makeover that demonstrated a table that clearly showed how one option was better than the others. The person who had created the original presentation commented on how much clearer the one slide was than the multiple text slides they had used. This way of presenting recommendations will help your audiences understand your recommendation and support it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Presentation Tip: Make slides easy to see

There is no point using slides if the audience won’t be able to figure out what is on them. While this may sound obvious, I see too many presenters create slides that the audience won’t be able to figure out because of problems with the slide design. You don’t need to be a graphic artist or designer to follow the simple guidelines in this article.

The first guideline is around selecting colors. Many of you may have a template mandated by your organization and don’t think you need to worry about color selection. I think all presenters need to remember that the most important aspect of choosing colors is that they have enough contrast. Contrast makes one color easily distinguishable from another. It allows text to be seen on a color below, it allows one pie wedge to be easily distinguished from the wedge beside it, and it allows shapes to be seen on top of or beside each other. Even if you have an organization standard template, you will still select the colors for many of the graphs, diagrams, and text boxes that you put on slides. To make sure the colors you choose have enough contrast, use the Color Contrast Calculator at

The second guideline is to not use a distracting picture in the background of your slide. At a recent workshop, one of the slides I used in the makeovers section demonstrated this issue. It was speaking about some changes to rules regarding alterations to a home. In the background, they had a photo of a street in the community, showing houses, lawns, and trees. A nice photo, but one that distracted the audience because they were trying to figure out whether the image related to the changes being discussed (it didn’t). Pictures in the background of your slides are distracting. If you want to use a photo to illustrate your point, make it the main part of the slide and use callouts to direct the audience’s attention to the spots on the photo that illustrate what you are talking about.

The background of your slide is also part of the third guideline presenters need to keep in mind. Some presenters like to use a gradient between two colors as the background of their slide. It is more visually interesting than a solid color and I use a gradient in my slide backgrounds. The caution comes when the difference between the two colors is too large. If you go from a cream to a navy blue, the gradient looks attractive, but it will be nearly impossible to find a text color that has enough contrast in all areas of the slide. If you want to use a gradient in the background of your slide, choose two colors that are fairly close to each other, such as black to a dark green or other dark color, or white to a light blue or other light color.

Using fonts that are large enough to easily read is the fourth guideline. Recently I had another organization send me a slide that used a five point font. That’s right, five point! There is no way in the world that the audience will be able to read text that small. Selecting a font size that will be easy to read depends on the size of the screen you are using and the size of the room. I recently presented in two rooms where they are using flat screen TVs instead of projectors, and the text is much smaller than a typical projector image. Use the tables at to calculate the font size you will need to use in order to make the text easily readable. In most situations, text should be at least 24 point or larger in order to be easy to read.

The final guideline for slide design has to do with where you place any branding, such as logos or names. Not everyone agrees that branding should be on each slide, but you may decide to add a small logo to each slide to reinforce your brand. If so, place all branding (logos, website address, name, etc.) at the bottom of the slide, not the top of the slide. Why? Because many times the bottom 10% of the slide is cut off by the setup of the screen and projector being too low. It is visible to the front row of the audience, but the rest of the audience can’t see the lower part of the image that is blocked by the heads of the people in front of them. If your branding is at the top of the slide, it pushes your valuable content into that bottom 10% and the audience can’t see it. Keep your content in the area that will be easiest to see by placing all branding at the bottom of the slide.

You don’t need to be a graphic artist to design a slide that is easy for your audience to see and read. Just follow the five guidelines in this article and your audience will think you are a great slide designer.