Here is the last installment (for now) in the Crimes Against Audiences series about terrible presentations. And here, dear friends, it is time to consider how to fix the horribleness of the business presentation.
Why us? Why you? Why now?
Because presentations are a form of marketing.
Because every sucky presentation is another tiny nail in the coffin of your brand.
Because every unprepared speaker is another deal that doesn’t close.
Because every time your company wastes the rare privilege of getting up in front of customers and prospects, a part of your corporate soul dies.
Marketers, whether we like it or not, we are the PowerPoint Department. We can either use that exalted (and thankless) position to do something about the deplorable state of business discourse, or we can bitch and moan about how unfair it is to spend a few hours each week unfu*king someone’s nasty attempt to convey an idea.
Let’s choose the high road. Here’s what that looks like.
Room-Proof Your Presentation
Before you give a set of slides to a speaker, go into the biggest meeting room you can find and put them on the screen. Now make the light, not quite as good as you would hope. Now go sit at the back and off to one side. How does that white type on peach look from there?
Actually Design Your Presentation
The templates that ship with PowerPoint are not helpful. They are not pretty. They are not unique. Go find a decent colour scheme. I recommend Colorlovers, but there are lots of others.
Better still, call a designer and have them make you something. In the right hands, a PowerPoint template can be simple, elegant and easy to use. Have them put little reminders on each template about minimum text size.
Stupid-Proof Your Speaker
This means actually asking them to rehearse. They should be rehearsing in their car on the drive to work. In the shower. Between meetings. If it’s a big enough presentation, you should schedule at least one proper dress rehearsal with your speaker.
It is an enduring mystery to me why we spend more time practicing how to evacuate a building than we do how to give a presentation. The odds are pretty much 100 percent that someone in your company will need to present this quarter. I am hopeful that the odds of your needing to exit the building in a hurry are considerably lower.
Save Time. Use Pictures
A slide full of words is basically a teleprompter the audience can see too. Which means all that happens is they race you to the bottom of the copy to see who can get there first. On the other hand, if you find a big, lovely, interesting, high-resolution image that sums up whatever your point may be (a scanned Dilbert calendar cartoon is not really what we have in mind here), then you need only crop it, place it and move on. Dump the bullet points into the speaking notes and move along.
The downside, of course, is that your speakers need to actually rehearse. For realisies. See above.
If they think the whole image-and-no words-thing is a little too free-form, remind them that they can more or less make it up on the fly if you use images, whereas if you use text, they are accountable to explain every stupid, useless bullet point.
Save Your Soul. Use Nice Pictures
I’m okay with stock photos for your images as long as two things are true: 1. They don’t suck. 2. You don’t steal them. If you are worried about budget, don’t be. Unless you are publishing this presentation in the New York Times, you will probably pay under $10 per image and likely a lot less than that. I recommend Dreamstime for free or cheap images. There are many others.
Another trick is to just go take your own pictures. Not of dumb things like your building or your shipping department, but of pretty things that interest you. This blog, for example, uses almost exclusively random photos I have taken on my phone. I do this to avoid any ambiguity about ownership and also because nobody will look at them otherwise.
Explain Your Data
I’m not a huge fan of spraying charts and graphs all over your slides, but I am a realist and I know that a well-timed scatter graph can build credibility, or at least create enough confusion that nobody will admit to not really understanding it and will agree to pretty much anything if it means you will move on.
Here is how you move on: tell them what to think about the data in front of them. You are presenting, not playing hide and seek with ideas. Show them whatever data you think will matter and call out the point. Long after you have left, they will be able to look at the presentation and remember what the heck you were trying to say.
Video in a Presentation is Hard. Respect That
Last week we saw what happens when your video doesn’t load. I think we have all knocked off a Candy Crush high score while some sales person mucked about trying to get the video to play, the sound to work, the point to be made.
If you are putting video in a presentation that you are not giving, make sure your presenter knows what to do to make it work. Depending on how you embedded it, that could require some effort. When Steve Jobs wanted video to play, half of Pixar was figuring it out backstage. It only looked effortless.
If your presenter can’t make it work on their own. Or if there will not be people who know what they are doing (and that does not include the audience), skip the video and use it as a follow up.
Beg for Money
I maintain the primary reason so many presentations suck is that nobody has been trained to deliver them. I know training is not your jam, but nobody else is going to go to the wall to get this sucker solved. Fight for funds to actually train your people about how to make a presentation – not deliver it – that’s what speaker training is, but how to actually make slides that work.
Be a Little Nicer
Stop turning down those people who come to you for help with their presentation. I know it’s a pain. I know you have better stuff to do. But give them points for asking. Most terrible presenters were too proud or too ignorant to get help. If you can get them to pay to outsource creating the slides, go ahead and do that, but take some time to help them rehearse. Better still, find some money for a proper speaking coach. If you are in the Toronto area, I can recommend Arlene Cohen Presenting.
Now I’m done.