Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Presentation Tip: Context Before Conclusion

When you show a slide on the screen, the audience will naturally look at it and start to decipher it. When they believe they understand it, they turn back to the presenter to hear what they are saying. Notice the sequence. The audience comes to a conclusion about the meaning of the slide before they have heard a single word from the presenter. What if they came to the wrong conclusion? How easy is it to change their mind? Not very easy at all. In this article, I want to talk about how presenters can give the audience context before they come their own conclusion.

The issue of the audience coming to the wrong conclusion about a slide can only happen if you display the slide with all the content on it from the start. This is the typical way that slides are presented unfortunately. As presenters we may think that the audience is listening to us as they are looking at the slide, but they aren’t. Brain research tells us that the audience can’t read and listen at the same time very well. So they usually focus on the reading of the slide. This leads them to come to a conclusion before we have given them the context for understanding the slide.

That is why in my workshops and my book Present It So They Get It, I suggest that you build your slides piece by piece instead of displaying all the content at once. By building your slides, the audience only sees a portion of the slide content, and their attention comes back to you quickly to understand what they are looking at. Once you have given them an explanation, they come to the conclusion you wanted them to about this piece, and you can move on to display the next piece of the slide content.

The easiest way to build the content on your slides is to use the animation feature of PowerPoint. But I don’t talk about animation much anymore. Why? Because the term animation has a very bad reputation when it refers to PowerPoint. People too often think of the twirling, swirling, flying, and bouncing types of effects that are distracting and annoying. It has even led some organizations to ban the use of animation. I agree that we should severely limit the use of the annoying effects. But a total ban robs the presenter of a useful tool to help focus the audience through the presentation.

Instead I suggest you talk about building your slides. While you do end up using the animation feature, building is a more acceptable term to use than animation. It shows a focus on serving the audience and helping them understand your message. Many features in PowerPoint can be used well or poorly. Just because some presenters have gotten too excited and used the crazy effects doesn’t mean we should ban animation all together. It would be like banning text from presentations because a few presenters have used the crazy WordArt text effects. Be conscious of your choices and focus on helping your audience understand the valuable message you have to share by building your slides piece by piece to give the audience context before they come to a conclusion.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Presentation Tip: Word clues to better organize information

With information overload being the number one issue for audiences today, how can presenters better organize their information so it is easier to understand? I see hundreds and hundreds of slides for each customized workshop I do as I create the slide makeovers for that group. I have come up with four clues that I look for in the words being used on the slide that indicate an opportunity to better organize the message for the audience.

One of the common mistakes I see presenters make is to have the same titles on a series of slides or use the word “continued” in the slide title. The problem is that this assumes that the audience can remember all the points across multiple slides and put all of the information together to figure out the message. The audience just won’t do it, even if they have a handout to refer to. Instead, have a slide to introduce this section that shows how the different parts are related. Then you can have one slide for each of the parts that you want to explain. This way, the audience has context for the points and can then follow along much easier.

If I see a series of bullet points with the same word repeated in each point, it triggers the thought that the presenter is probably trying to compare items on multiple criteria. A slide I looked at had bullet points that contained pros and cons for each type of cable, with many of the items in each category repeated for the different cables. A much better way to organize the information is in a comparison table. Have the criteria on the left side, and each column can then show how that cable measures up on that criteria. When I showed the group the “after” slide, they saw how much easier it was to understand.

Another clue I look for is a title that says either “high level”, “summary”, “overview”, or a similar term at the top of a dense slide packed with information. An overview is supposed to be just that. The few key points that the audience needs to know. Not everything you know about the subject. If you are creating a summary or overview slide, force yourself to a limit of four to six short points at most. This gives the audience and idea of where you will be going. Then you can have additional slides for each of the points including the details you want to share.

The fourth clue I look for is in the Speaker Notes section for the slide. If I see instructions that say “Read this slide” and the slide is not a legal disclaimer that must be read as is, I know the slide has a big problem. The problem is that slide is not for the benefit of the audience, it is for the benefit of the speaker, to remind them what to say. Organize your information into two parts. The first part is what the audience needs to see in order to keep them on track, and this can go on your slide. The second part are your notes, which can go in the Speaker Notes section of the slide so you can see them in Presenter View when you are speaking. You can also put your notes on cue cards, paper, your iPad, or whatever method will remind you of important points to emphasize. The slides the audience sees should never be your speaker notes.

When you are creating slides or reviewing slides from others, look for these four word clues in order to better organize the information. You will find it easier to present, and your presentation will be more effective.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Presentation Tip: Reduce the words in each point

In my latest book, Present It So They Get It, I provide five strategies for reducing the information in your presentation down to just what the audience needs to know. Information overload is the single biggest issue in presentations today, and in my workshops, this section on reducing information overload is always a popular one for the participants. Today I want to extend one of the strategies so it is even more applicable to many presentations.

One strategy I share in the book and my workshops is the 3R’s strategy for reducing the number of bullet points on a slide. It works well, and people see how it can reduce a list of fifteen or twenty bullet points down to four or five. What I also discovered is that this strategy can be used to reduce the text within a bullet point as well.

Sometimes I see slides where they have five or six bullet points on a slide, but each one is three or four lines long. All that text overwhelms the audience and they can’t figure out what the message is. Research by Prof. Richard Meyer has shown that additional detail on our slides makes it harder for the audience to comprehend what we are trying to say.

To reduce the text in a single bullet point, I apply the 3R’s, which are Rank, Reduce, and Rephrase. I rank the words or phrases in the text by importance to the audience. There are usually a few words or phrases that capture the essence of the point. Second, I reduce the text down to just the most important words or phrases, dramatically reducing the length of the point. Finally, I rephrase the selected words and phrases so that they make sense to the audience. Sometimes this means creating a second point because the first one contained two key points.

By having shorter, more meaningful points on the slide, you make it easier for the audience to understand the key point and then listen to you as you expand on it. They are doing less reading of the slide and paying more attention to you. It is also easier as a presenter because you can expand as much or as little as you want on each point, depending on the timing and audience.

Here are two examples from a slide I used this strategy on for a workshop a few months ago:

Original point: Maintain the Company’s Records for the duration of the retention period specified in the Records Retention Schedule and conduct the deletion or destruction of Records in accordance with this Policy.
Revised point: Maintain records during retention period

Original point: Identify the Company’s Records to facilitate access to information required to conduct the Company’s business and to comply with applicable statutes and regulations, including recordkeeping, privacy, security and confidentiality requirements.
Revised points:
Facilitate access to information
Comply with applicable statutes and regulations 

See how much easier it is for both audience and presenter when you reduce the words in each point on your slides. Try it on one or two of your slides and see how much more effective your presentation will be.