The Successful Presenter

Communicate When It Counts

Please Don't "Deck" the Halls

I had an experience recently that reinforced everything I believe about presentations, and the ability of visual aids to interfere with an effective communication process.
I had an experience recently that reinforced everything I believe about presentations.

I sit as a volunteer member of the international accreditation council of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). The council oversees the worldwide maintenance, development and marketing of the accredited business communicator (ABC) designation.

On Monday, we received a staff proposal for changing the ABC. It was sent to us as a PowerPoint deck; prose in a horizontal format.

On Wednesday, we had a global conference call to review the proposal and get our reaction to it.

We went through the deck page by page, with the slides essentially being read to us. Very little was added to what was written on the page. When people tried to ask questions, they were asked to save them to the end.

I came to the conclusion that if a client wants to pay my billable hourly rate ($350), I'll be happy to sit through such an exercise. That's up to them.

But if if it's my dime (and, as a volunteer, it is), or I'm the person leading the discussion, there are a couple of better ways to approach this challenge.

Create Discussion
It would have been better for the presenter to send the deck on Monday and ask everyone to read it in advance of our conference call. Quite frankly, we're all adults. If we haven't done our homework, we shouldn't be on the council in the first place.

Summarize the document in a brief five-minute presentation and open the floor to discussion, or go page-by-page and simply ask: "Are there any questions?"

With today's technology, if someone feels compelled to read the slides, they could read their presentation into a computer over the weekend, convert into an mp3, wav or QuickTime file, and send the file out with the deck.

Create discussion, which is the true value of bringing people together — either face-to-face or via teleconference. It was 30 minutes before we got to the discussion, and we still had unresolved issues when our hour was up and people had to get on with other things.

The lesson? When the best deck can't be no deck at all, send it in advance. Let people read for themselves. Create as much time as possible for discussion. Answer as many questions as possible.

In that environment, good ideas can rise to the top, consensus can be constructed, and better decisions can be made.