The Successful Presenter

Communicate When It Counts

CME’s Deeply Ingrained Assumption




I was once asked by a pharmaceutical company to provide one-and-one-half hours of presentation skills training to a group of urologists. These physicians had gathered to put the finishing touches on a continuing medical education (CME) program.
Presentation Skills Improvement for CME

As a presentations skills consultant, my role was to help them understand how they could effectively communicate their knowledge when they later fanned out to conduct workshops across the country. I was scheduled to speak from 10:30 to noon.

From 8:30 to 9:15 a.m., one of the urologists who was leading the content stood at the front of the room and took 30 or so of his peers through the information they would later be asked to present. To my very pleasant surprise, he was a brilliant communicator. He didn’t use slides. He showed two short videos.

He created a conversation with 30 of his colleagues. In 45 minutes, he provided incredible insight and answered close to a hundred questions. It was a case study in communication effectiveness. Everyone was engaged.

During a short break after his talk, I circulated through the room and noticed that people were talking in small groups. There was a buzz in the room. Everyone was commenting on how much they learned, and how the session was one of the best (if not the best) they had ever attended.

After the break, they broke into groups to put the finishing touches on their slides.

This exercise took longer than anticipated. When they reconvened at 11:40 a.m., I had twenty minutes remaining for my session before we had no choice but to break for lunch. I could have given a short version of my presentation, but I didn’t.

These are highly educated individuals, I thought to myself. I’m going to challenge them a bit.

I focused their attention on the presentation we had witnessed earlier. They agreed it was brilliant. Everyone learned a lot.

I then asked how many slides were used. This caught them by surprise. It took a minute before they realized their colleague hadn’t used any, which he verified (he was still in the room).

Then I asked if they were going to use the slides they spent the past two-and-a-half hours working on when they delivered their own CME sessions. They said yes. I asked: “Why?” At first there was silence. Then they pushed back.

To say that this evolved into a spirited conversation would be an understatement. Anyone watching would have thought I had refuted the holy grail of urology without a single shred of evidence.

“That’s the way CME programs are delivered,” one physician commented. Another told me that CME programs had been delivered that way since speakers actually carried carousels of 35-mm slides from presentation to presentation. That’s the way it’s done, and that’s the way it’s always been done.

Perhaps, I said. But is that the best way? Wouldn’t it be better to re-create what we all witnessed earlier?

My parting thought was that I hoped they would bring a similar analysis to the communication process that they bring to their profession.

There’s no doubt that communication is an art. But make no mistake, there’s a growing body of social science research around communication. Three credible studies have shown that you can increase communication effectiveness by up to 30 per cent by delivering the same information without showing a single slide.

This research needs to be understood and properly applied, because it clearly shows what we all know in our heart-of-hearts: that slides impede communication.

The bottom line on communication effectiveness is simple. What someone says to an audience is less unimportant than how the audience applies the information or takes action on it.

I have no doubt that the 30 urologists I observed learned things they will be able to apply to their practice by participating in their colleague’s 45-minute presentation.

But could their audiences do the same? If they showed the slides they spent all day developing, the research is actually quite clear.

Probably not.


No Presenter? No Presentation



When reading blogs on the subject, or by simply talking to people and asking them what they think, there is often some confusion as to what actually constitutes a presentation.

But let's be absolutely clear: for a presentation to exist, the presenter is the only essential element. Everything else is secondary.

microphone for presentation skills
In other words, if there is no presenter, there can be no presentation.

To put this into perspective, let's suppose your senior management team has assembled to attend a presentation that will be delivered by an outside consultant. When the presentation begins, the projector suddenly breaks down. PowerPoint is unavailable.

Could the presenter still deliver the presentation? Of course.

In fact, according to three research studies that measure audience retention when slides are used versus simply talking to the audience without the use of slides to convey the same information — one from Purdue University, one from the University of Barcelona and one from the University of Munich — the audience will understand and retain up to 30 per cent more information from the presentation if the projector does break down than if the slides are actually delivered.

(Hint for future presentation effectiveness: Turn off the projector to deliver your next presentation and you’ll achieve 30 per cent greater audience retention.)

Now, imagine another scenario. The presenter is on a flight that has been delayed and he or she can no longer deliver the presentation in person. Instead, the slides are sent via email. Would the presentation still exist? Would the senior management team assemble in the boardroom to go over the slides and discuss the information? No, probably not.

If slides are sent in advance that can be understood without the presenter, a horizontal written document has been circulated. A presentation has not been delivered.

Let's be clear. A movie is not a presentation. A slideware file is not a presentation. A presentation deck is not a presentation, no matter how often some people use the words 'presentation' and 'PowerPoint' interchangeably.

And that brings us to the original assertion.

If there is no presenter, there can be no presentation.

Period.

Even More Bad New for Slideware Users

bored_audience


A study conducted at the University of Munich has confirmed the results of two previous studies I’ve written about—a study from Purdue and another from the University of Barcelona.

And the news is truly bad for the 30 to 40 million slide-driven presentations, lectures, workshops, seminars, and training programs delivered worldwide each day.

If slides are your crutch, it’s bad news for you, too.

There is now absolutely no question that your audience misses large portions of what you say when you show your slides and talk at the same time.

The Munich study confirmed that “the retention of oral information was significantly lower in the condition with regular slides than in the condition without slides.”

Of course, if you believe that what the presenter says isn’t important, perhaps it makes no difference. But there is a critical question to ask of those who believe the presenter isn’t absolutely essential to every effective presentation: If what the presenter says isn’t important, why is she or he taking up our time in the first place?

In another objection to the research, some might ask: “If the audience loses a large portion of what’s said, isn’t there an offsetting gain by showing the slides?”

According to the researchers, the answer is no.

munich sample slides.002
“It is remarkable, however, that this ‘suppressive’ effect of regular slides,” they said, “could not be demonstrated to be the downside of a trade-off in favour of the retention of information on slides.”

In other words, if you use what the researchers called “regular” slides in your presentation (like the one to the right), your audience is going to miss large portions of what you say, no matter how well you say it or how hard they struggle to absorb it.

Logically, this would apply even more to charts and graphs, which require more reading and more concentration to decipher than the regular slide shown here.

And there is no question that what you lose by asking your audience to read and listen at the same time is not regained in any way by showing your slides.

Regular Slides vs Concise Slides
munich sample slides.001
The researchers also tested the retention and understanding of presentations using what they called concise slides.

The regular slide format contained a total of 12 slides: a title slide; a structural slide; and 10 additional slides. No slide in this series contained more than eight lines (excluding the heading) or six bullet points.

Conversely, concise slides used six slides to explain the same information: a title slide, a structural slide; and four additional slides. The researchers also used “black” slides between the regular slides. No slide in this series contained more than seven lines (excluding the heading) or five bullet points.

While their research confirmed that the “retention of oral information is higher with concise slides or without slides than with regular slides,” they could not state that the overall retention of concise slides was any better than not using slides at all.

The Bottom Line
In
5 Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’, the third step is: “Minimize visual aids.” I am 100 per cent confident that the research from Purdue, Barcelona and Munich supports the logic of that suggestion.

There are three things to keep in mind when minimizing visual aids, two of which were dealt with directly in the research.

First, to enhance your success, you must absolutely minimize the information on slides if you cannot overcome your PowerPoint addiction and eliminate them altogether (or only use one or two where needed). If your slides look like the regular slide shown here, turn off the projector, use your slides as notes (visible to you, but not to the audience), and talk to your audience.

Second, you must absolutely minimize the number of slides you use. As the researchers demonstrated, by cutting the number of content slides by 60 per cent, and by using blank slides between content slides, retention of information increased.

There is a simple test to determine this. If someone can read your slides and understand your presentation, you have too many slides and too much on each slide.

Third, don’t be afraid to use other visual aids. Whiteboards, flip charts, blackboards and pieces of paper are not only excellent visual aids, they are not slides. Each one is a different tool; each one has a different purpose.

Finally, don’t be afraid to turn off the projector and talk to your audience. If you believe that what you say is important, the research is clear:

Simply talking to your audience, while minimizing your visual aids, is absolutely the best way to be heard, understood and remembered.

More Bad News for Slideware Users

Even more bad news for PowerPoint users
A study from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain confirms the conclusions of a study from Purdue University I wrote about a couple weeks ago.

Like the Purdue study, the Barcelona results are bad news for the 40 million people each day who deliver “standard” slideware presentations.

Their slides are getting in the way of the communication process, leading to lower understanding and retention by the audience.

However, the study indicates that presenters can achieve better outcomes by turning off the projector, talking to their audience, and using a chalkboard, whiteboard or flip chart when needed.

205 Students in Four Classes
Researchers conducted their study with a base of 205 students registered in a course entitled the Psychology of Education during the 2010-2011 academic year—a compulsory course for those working toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

The course was divided into four groups and led by two professors. Each professor taught one course in the morning and one in the afternoon. For this test, each professor used slides for one class and a blackboard for the other.

The two professors worked together to develop a 19-slide presentation for the class in which slides would be shown. The number of lines in each slide did not exceed 13. The number of words per slide varied between 42 and 93.

This is actually a “light” treatment of the use of slides by industry standards (
as this page of conference handouts clearly demonstrates).

The professors prepared a 10-question multiple-choice test to evaluate the knowledge acquired by students during the class. The test was administered immediately after the presentation. The questions and their correct answers were based on information taught during the class.

During the first 40 minutes of class time, the professor delivered the presentation (lecture). The remaining time was devoted to allowing students to complete the quiz.

Results Are Significant
There is no question that slides impeded the communication process. The students who weren’t exposed to slides scored higher on the quiz than those who were.

The average score for those who didn't see slides was 8.21. The average score for those who were exposed who did see the slides was 6.73.

In other words, eliminating slides enabled students to score 22 per cent higher on the quiz.

“The evaluations of contents presented without PowerPoint yielded better results (more correct answers and consequently fewer mistakes) than when the same contents were presented using the PowerPoint methodology,” the researchers concluded. “If we take the class taught without PowerPoint as a reference, the effect of this technology used according to the procedure described is to lower learning by 18%, which can be considered a significant effect (or defect).”

Verifying Step Three: Minimize Visual Aids
The researchers are verifying step three of the 5 Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’: Minimize visual aids.

If presenters need a visual to explain a concept, they should use a visual (and, as the
Purdue study indicated, there is no added value to developing a slide versus simply drawing a diagram with a whiteboard or flip chart). Once it’s no longer needed, remove the visual from view and talk to your audience.

But if presenters feel compelled to always have something in front of the audience, they are negatively impacting their ability to communicate effectively.

For those who believe that communication, understanding and retention are important to their personal and/or professional business success, there is a lot to be gained from the Barcelona study.

Bad News for Slideware Users

PowerPoint causes students to fall asleep during presentations
Researchers at Purdue University have some bad news for the 40 million people worldwide who deliver “standard” slide-driven presentations each and every day.

When slides are used, the researchers concluded, the audience retains nearly 30 per cent less than if presenters eliminate PowerPoint and simply talk to their audience.

In other words,
by simply turning off your projector and using your slides as notes, you can significantly enhance your communication effectiveness.

Two Styles of Lectures
The researchers conducted their study as part of a course entitled “Human Factors in Engineering” that was delivered to students from four majors—engineering, humanities, management and technology. The course was attended by both undergraduate and graduate students and was taught three times a week for 16 weeks.

There were two separate streams of classes for the course, which was based on the textbook Human Factors in Simple and Complex Systems.

For two lectures, two distinctly different delivery styles were used—one that showed slides during the lecture and one that did not.

Researchers then used a 20-question quiz to test students’ ability to recall information in four categories: oral information presented during lectures, graphic information presented during lectures, alphanumeric information from the lectures, and information presented orally with visual support.

The Negative Affect of Slides
The researchers’ first hypothesis was that PowerPoint would have a negative effect on what was said during the lecture—that it would be more difficult for the audience to listen to the presenter while slides are shown.

And there is no question this is true. Students who didn't see slides during the lecture scored 29 per cent higher on the quiz in recalling oral information, and achieved higher overall scores with the recall of all information. “The presence of PowerPoint negatively affected the recall of auditory information,” the researchers concluded, adding that “graphic scores reveal there was no notable gain when using PowerPoint to display graphic information.

“The same could be said for alphanumeric information. There was no notable gain for using PowerPoint vs. the chalkboard.”

Ever spent hours putting a slide together? According to this research, that effort was virtually a complete waste of time.

But the news gets even worse for habitual users of all slideware programs. In addition to testing lectures with and without slides, the researchers also tested those people who didn’t attend class at all during the two lectures in which the comparison was made. Unbelievably, those who didn’t attend either lecture “heard” more than those who attended the slide-driven lecture.

“The negative affect that PowerPoint has on the retention of auditory information is similar to not attending class and hearing the information at all,” the researchers wrote in their conclusions.

In other words, if you use slides, your audience is better off reading your slides and skipping the meeting, webinar, training session or conference at which those slides were presented. They’ll understand and retain more.

Fortunately, if understanding and retention are important to your business success, you can enhance both with one simple action:

Turn off the projector, or close the deck,
and simply talk to your audience.

Shauna Overcomes Her Slide Addiction




I had a fascinating experience last fall that underscored everything I’ve believed about how using slides kills interactivity and audience engagement—and that by simply shutting off the projector you can reverse those negative outcomes.

raising hand
I was the scheduled keynote speaker at an evening forum for aspiring professional engineers sponsored by a chapter of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO). After my hour, a speaker from PEO headquarters was scheduled to spend about 40 minutes talking about the steps required to achieve the professional engineering (P.Eng.) designation.

The title of my presentation was: Cognitive Science + Common Sense = Effective Presentations. Once I showed a short video during the first part of my presentation—to demonstrate that humans cannot read and listen at the same time—I shut the projector off.

During the lull between my presentation and the next one, the speaker (we’ll call her Shauna) started up the projector, attached her laptop, and began loading her presentation.

Watching this on-screen, one of the participants commented: “Wow, look at all the slides! Didn’t you hear anything Eric said during the past hour?”

He said it quietly and politely, but his point was well made. Shauna looked a little lost, so I walked over and quietly said to her: “If you need your slides as notes, use them. But shut the projector off.”

She did shut it off and, shortly after she started her presentation, an interesting thing happened. The group began asking questions. And they didn’t just ask questions, they fired them at her.

“I’ve just changed jobs,” one person said. “What information do I need from my previous employer? Is there anything different I need from my current employer?”

“I’ve just been laid off,” another said. “How will that affect my path to becoming licensed? Can I get an extension if I need it?”

On it went. Shauna was easily asked more than 50 or 60 questions, which helped audience members shape the licensing information to their particular circumstance, which is when communication actually works.

After the presentation, I asked Shauna if this was more questions than she normally receives. “Definitely,” she replied. “In fact, it’s more questions in one evening than I’ve received in the dozens of times I’ve delivered this presentation combined.”

I also talked to a few aspiring engineers at the end of the evening. They told me they got great value from the presentation. They already knew the path to licensure. The interaction gave them the opportunity to relate that path to their specific circumstances.

And that is when face-to-face communication actually works.

So, if you want to improve your next presentation, why not learn from Shauna’s experience? Shut off the projector and use your slides as your notes.

Create an interactive exchange that has structure for you, but ultimately provides more value to them.

After all, aren’t they the most important people in the room?

Sales Conference Eliminates Slides, Saves Money & Generates Results

Effective Sales Presentations At Conference
This past fall, I had the pleasure of working on a project that verified everything I believe about effective presentations in general, and successful sales presentations specifically.

What do I believe? You can enhance your presentation success and improve your sales results by telling your story effectively, while minimizing the slides you use or eliminating them altogether.

I was hired by a mutual fund company to provide presentation training to portfolio managers in advance of the company’s bi-annual sales conference in San Diego, CA. The conference was attended by retail investment advisors and was an important sales opportunity for the firm; investment advisors are its primary retail sales channel.

The purpose of the training was to help all portfolio managers shape their stories and tell them effectively in an interactive format. The goal was to create a conversational atmosphere that encouraged engagement, questions and dialogue with the audience. The assumption was that this would strengthen relationships and enhance sales results.

The portfolio managers were divided into six presentation teams according to investment style. For about five weeks prior to the conference, each team participated in five or six two-hour training sessions and rehearsals.

Using my strategic approach, which is
freely available to everyone, I first helped each team shape its story for a 45-minute presentation on how they manage money to help clients achieve their financial goals. The remainder of training then focused on helping them tell their stories effectively, while answering questions clearly and concisely.

PowerPoint-Free Zones Enhance Sales Presentation Results
Slide-Free Zones
As the content development process unfolded, all breakout sessions became slide-free zones. This was not necessarily done by design, but it became clear to everyone that very few, if any, visuals would be needed to tell each team’s investment story effectively.

As an added bonus, the company saved US $10,000 by not using slide projectors during the breakout sessions.

And, instead of handing out thick, cumbersome copies of presentation slides at the conference (the previous conference provided a 176-page book of two slides per page that was likely never read), a short feature article (500-800 words) was written to recap each breakout session. The logic was that investment advisors could use these articles in subsequent sales discussions with their clients.

Finally, the group established the objective of generating a Q-Ratio equal to or greater than one for each breakout session. In other words, the portfolio managers would strive to answer more than 45 questions during their 45-minute breakout session, while still completing their presentation content and finishing on time.

The logic is simple. More questions from the audience equals more interest and more engagement. Interest and engagement are critical to sales success.

Results Demonstrate Success
The breakout sessions generated as many as 50 to 80 questions and exceeded a Q-Ratio of 1. Some of the comments on evaluations included:
  • Very interactive, especially amongst the fund managers. Hope to see this more often at future conferences.
  • Outstanding in every sense.
  • Great interaction during the conference.
  • Interactive and informative. Very enjoyable.
  • The best conference of its kind that I’ve ever attended.
All speakers achieved a rating equal to or greater than 4.0 out of 5.0, with a median grade of 4.3. This is an amazing accomplishment, especially with a group of investment advisors, who are arguably one of the most difficult audiences to please. To put this into perspective, the final keynote speaker (Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame), achieved a rating of 4.5.

In addition:
  • Ninety-six per cent of attendees rated the investment team as industry-leading (36%) or strong (61%). Four per cent rated the investment team as average. For many attendees, this was their first opportunity to meet the investment team.
  • Seventy-one per cent of attendees said they would be more willing to recommend this company’s investment products to their clients.
  • Seventy-seven per cent of attendees said they will make this mutual fund company one of the top three mutual fund companies that they recommend to their clients.
Based on the success of not using PowerPoint to develop content, many of the portfolio managers are now saying that they plan to adopt this approach in all presentations—everything from internal presentations to their teams to road shows that promote products and services.

At the start of the process, portfolio managers had difficulty understanding how they could deliver presentations without using slides. At the end of the conference, it was clear to everyone that minimizing the slides they use in presentations is the way forward to enhance engagement, understanding and sales success.

Physicists Ban Slides. Can Others Can Learn From Their Experiment?




According to a recent article in Symmetry magazine, a group of physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider project at Fermilab has banned the use of slides at biweekly meetings in favour of whiteboards.

Ban on PowerPoint enhances communication
The move came as a direct result of the project’s leadership seeking ways to enhance engagement from the audience who, until that time, was like every other audience trying to follow a series of slides.

The result of the ban? The physicists say the move has led to more “interaction and curiosity,” made it easier for the group to discuss the project’s “ongoing work and future goals,” and enhanced the connection between speaker and audience to improve decision-making.

Are there lessons here that can apply to others?

Absolutely:

  • As I’ve written before, Amazon and LinkedIn have banned slide-driven presentations at their meetings, resulting in enhanced productivity and improved decision-making.
  • I have long believed that boards of directors should ban slideware presentations at their meetings to achieve the same results: save time and enhance the overall quality of decisions made.
  • Most conference organizers I know would like to enhance engagement. It’s a bold move, but banning slides (not just PowerPoint, but Keynote, Prezi, SlideRocket, Haiku Deck and others) would force speakers to use a variety of tools that lead to greater engagement.
  • A recent Gallup survey indicated that only 30 per cent of employees are engaged. Fewer than one in three! Care to make a wager on how most of those employees receive information from their leaders? What has an organization got to lose by banning slides at internal meetings?
  • Planning a sales meeting? Why not ban slides? The sales force undoubtedly has knowledge to contribute. Like the physicists, if the sales force was more engaged, wouldn’t the group benefit from the collective experience of others?
The list goes on.

It takes courage to implement a ban. But it appears that those organizations who do are gaining significant benefits as a result.

LinkedIn & Amazon Eliminate Slide-Driven Presentations




Two of the business world’s top CEOs—Jeff Bezos at Amazon and Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn—have eliminated slide-driven presentations from their meetings.

Jeff Bezos says banning powerpoint saves time
During an interview with Charlie Rose, Amazon.com’s CEO talked about why he would take such a seemingly radical step, which not only includes eliminating projected presentations but printed decks as well.

“All of our meetings are structured around six-page memos,” Bezos says, pointing out that this also eliminates bullet points. “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.”

Bezos believes that slides make it easy for the presenter but difficult for the audience. As a result, his meetings may start with up to 30 minutes of silence while everyone reads the documents.

The result of separating the written word from the spoken word? “It saves a lot of time,” he points out.

In a blog post, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner points out that “at LinkedIn, we have essentially eliminated the presentation.” Information is sent 24 hours in advance, giving people an opportunity to review it. However, not everyone can find the time, so five to 10 minutes is set aside at the start of the meeting to give everyone time to review the written document.

"Once folks have completed the reading, it’s time to open it up for discussion,” Weiner writes. “There is no presentation.”

Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn talks about eliminating PowerPoint
The benefit? “You may be pleasantly surprised to see a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is actually over after 20-30 minutes.”

Are these leaders are on the right track? Absolutely. Cognitive science tells us that humans cannot read and listen at the same time. In fact, trying to do both is absolutely the least effective option and a virtual waste of time—terrible news for the “average” slide-driven presentation delivered in boardrooms, meeting rooms, training rooms and conference halls.

Organizations that wish to regain lost productivity, and to communicate most effectively to make the best decisions, should learn to separate the written word from the spoken word. There is a time to read and a time to discuss. For best results, those times should never, ever be the same time.

Let’s hope more leaders have the courage to follow suit.

Lessons From the Military: Turn Off the Projector to Enhance Decision-Making




I recently came across an interesting article in the Small Wars Journal, in which military commander Ben Zweibelson expresses his belief that because the “military has become addicted to the benefits of PowerPoint,” decision-makers have become blinded to “the many negative impacts on organizational learning, creativity, and critical thinking” of slide-driven briefings.

There are a number of reasons why Zweibelson believes that PowerPoint negatively impacts decision-making:
  • PowerPoint-driven briefings focus on the “What” versus the “Why”
  • PowerPoint-driven briefings kill productivity
  • PowerPoint-driven briefings emphasize quantity over quality
What vs Why
PowerPoint at Briefings

´┐╝Zweibelson uses a bicycle metaphor to make this point. Imagine that your briefing is focused on the strategic benefits of using bicycles during war. PowerPoint-driven briefings focus on each individual part of the bicycle—the seat, the gears, the wheels, the tires, the spokes, the handlebars. Information is categorized into small, isolated packets.

Because of its linear nature, PowerPoint encourages decision-makers to focus on data, rather than how that data could and should be interrelated, even though interrelationships are critical to effective decision-making.

Ideally, decision-making should focus on why. In other words, the bicycle needs to be assembled and consideration given to where or why (or if) it should be ridden, and could be used strategically in battle. The interrelationships of the various parts should be the primary consideration when people sit down to make decisions.

Instead, Zweibelson writes that PowerPoint presentations are used to standardize briefings into “uniform and repetitive procedures that codify organizational perspective into ‘group think.’ We follow the slides, and conform to the slide requirements. Next slide, please.”

Killing Productivity
Zweibelson points out that modern military briefings (and indeed the vast majority of presentations to all decision-making groups) consist of densely packed slides. More often than not, the person conducting the briefing reads from the slides while offering little additional information of value.

He recommends that decision-makers ask the presenter to turn off the slide projector as soon as this situation manifests itself. “If the presenter is unable to articulate their thoughts or convey much of anything,” Zweibelson writes, “you might determine that the slideshow is the actual briefer, while the human has become the willing presentation aid.”

We’ve all witnessed the same issue with printed presentation decks.

When everyone gets together, the conversation focuses on the “what” in the deck, not “why” it’s important to the organization. If you want to change this, put the decks away; they should never form the basis for any meeting.

Painstakingly (and painfully!) plodding through decks may very well be the ultimate productivity sin of the 21st century.

Quantity over Quality
In any presentation—whether briefing a group of decision-makers or delivering a keynote to 1,000 or more—there is always more information than time.

The challenge is to apply critical thinking skills to bring precisely the right information to create understanding and facilitate effective decision-making. However, as Zweibelson points out, PowerPoint-driven briefings always attempt to cram “ten pounds of dirt into a five pound bag,” which “does little to improve organizational learning” or facilitate effective decision-making.

Recommendations
Zweibelson makes some interesting recommendations to enhance critical thinking, improve productivity and facilitate decision-making:
  • Presenters should be limited to a maximum of three slides, yet the length of the meeting should be maintained. Group discussion will identify critical issues that require attention.
  • The projector should be turned off and presentation decks should be put away.
  • Other briefing aids should be encouraged and staff should be challenged to conduct briefings with no PowerPoint whatsoever.
  • And, in a radical departure, he even recommends removing chairs and tables. “We become programmed to behave in certain ways because we are conditioned to sit and be silent while a briefer spoon-feeds us information while the same information is projected,” he writes. “Why? What happens when everyone is no longer seated for a briefing?”
Whether the group is seated or not, the net effect of turning off the projector and putting away the deck is clear: Better decision-making that enhances productivity by focusing on the quality of the “why” rather than the quantity of the “what.”

Copyright © Eric Bergman All Rights Reserved

Two Changes to PowerPoint Could Make the World a Better Place




I’ve given the issue much deliberation and I’ve come to the conclusion that the next edition of PowerPoint (or Keynote or any other slideware program) should encompass two changes. These two simple changes would not only improve presentations and other forms of face-to-face communication, they would also have the potential to make the world a better place.

The first change is quite simple. For all-text slides, no font smaller than 96 point. This would solve a number of problems.

PowerPoint slide for presentaiton skills
´┐╝First and foremost, it would reduce the amount of information that someone can cram onto a slide, as the sample here demonstrates. The person presenting would never have to ever again say “I know you probably can’t see this” because everyone would be able to see it!

Second, this change would make it virtually impossible for presenters to put their notes on-screen. Ever wondered what causes bullet-point boredom? Now you know. (Of course, the best way to avoid bullet-point boredom among audiences is to never, ever use PowerPoint as a content development tool. Instead, use the free workbook available from this website.)

Third, a minimum 96-point font would also solve the problem of presenters reading to their audiences. (As an aside, for those who feel compelled to read their presentations to us word-by-word, I would like to express a sentiment that the entire world shares: In the name of all that is beautiful and gentle on this planet, please stop.)

Finally, presenters who feel compelled to create all-text presentations will not be able to use much text, especially when we consider the second change I propose.

Link PowerPoint to User’s Bank Account
The second change is radical, but possible. It would improve presentations, and has the potential to make the world a better place in which to live.

Every PowerPoint user would be required to link the program to his or her bank account. They would be allowed four slides per presentation (which, by the way, includes the title slide).

For every additional slide, the program would automatically transfer twenty-five dollars (or the equivalent in pounds, euros, francs or yen) from their bank account to the bank account of their favourite charitable organization.

Think of it. More than 40 million presentations will be produced today. If we conservatively estimate 30 slides per presentation, we end up with more than one billion extraneous slides (40 million x 26). That’s $25 billion per day pouring into the coffers of charitable organizations the world over—or more than $125 billion per working week.

If people didn’t change their behaviour, we could tackle homelessness, hunger and health care around the world in less than a month. Half a trillion dollars goes a long way.

Heck, after a few months, we could focus on tackling the budget deficits of most major nations on the planet.

Of course, this is a no-lose proposition. If presenters do change their behaviour and live within the four slide limit (and focus on creating conversations with audiences rather than dumping data), the world would still become a better place for everyone.

Any Visual Distraction Can Reduce Presentation Effectiveness



This short video demonstrates why slide-driven presentations tend to be less effective than simply conducting a conversation.

If a blank screen can get in the way of effective communication, imagine what PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, SlideRocket or any other slideware program can do.





















The In-Class PowerPoint Survival Guide

Making the Most of a Bad Situation
College and university students who have noticed that there's a direct link between the amount of PowerPoint the professor uses and the likelihood that they’ll be completely bored in class should take heart. They’re not alone.

This phenomenon occurs because of how the human mind processes information to learn.

The cognitive research in this area is quite clear. As human beings, when we try to read and listen at the same time, we actually understand less than if we do either one separately. Working memory is overloaded. We can’t keep up, so we give up.

This is relatively easy to prove. The next time you're watching your favourite all-news channel, try listening to what the news anchor is saying while reading what's scrolling across the bottom. Even if both are about the same story, it won't take more than five seconds to realize you have to block out one or the other to get anything meaningful out of the exercise.

working memory is overloaded by powerpoint in the classroom
And that's in five seconds. Imagine what happens during a two-hour, slide-driven lecture.

So how can students make the best of a bad situation, especially when the professor is unaware that using slides in class is unsupported by cognitive research? Two ways, really.

The first is for students to adjust their behaviour by better understanding how they process information, and using that knowledge to adapt in class. The second is to find ways to change the professor’s behaviour so that he or she uses fewer slides in class (if any at all), and puts significantly less on each slide.

Adjusting Student Behaviour
If slides are posted online in advance, read them before class and set them aside. Do not bring them to class.

In class, focus on listening to the professor and taking notes. Ignore the projected slides, no matter how many times the professor refers to them.

If the class format allows, ask questions—even if it's to slow the professor down to finish absorbing an idea.

work in pairs to deal with powerpoint in the classroom
If slides are posted after class, reverse the process. Ignore the slides in class and take notes on what the professor is saying. Review the slides later, especially notes are re-worked during that critical first 48 hours after they were taken.

If the professor doesn't post slides online, ask if pictures can be taken of the slides projected in class. If it’s ok, pull out a smartphone, snap the picture, ignore what's on the screen, listen to the professor, and take notes.

If photos can’t be taken, find a partner and work in pairs. One person listens and takes notes. The other writes down what's on the slides. Copy and swap after class.

Adjusting Professor Behaviour
When it comes to changing the behaviour of professors, there are a couple things that can be done.

couple things you can do to deal with powerpoint in the classroom
One is to print this article and leave it on his or her desk. If they read this far, they’ll now be learning that there is no direct evidence to indicate that using slides in any format, classrooms and lecture halls included, is even remotely effective. In fact, one of the world's top cognitive scientists says the evidence is pointing in exactly the opposite direction.

Those professors who use minimal PowerPoint or no PowerPoint should be praised, as should the rare professor (one in a hundred?) who uses PowerPoint well, but students might consider being frank about the use of PowerPoint on class evaluations.

If there were too many slides, say so. If the slides got in the way of learning, say so. If there were so many slides that the value of going to class is in question, say so.

And keep saying so until professors and administrators get the point. Education is far too expensive for students—and far too competitive for the institutions—to settle for glazed eyes in class, especially when those glazed eyes are created in the name of “
that’s the way it’s done” or “everyone uses it.”

What is a Conversation?

Conversations are two-way, receiver-driven and adhere to the principle of "less is more." Ever been stuck at the party beside the person who talks non-stop? Is that two-way communication? Or is it a one-way transmission of information?

The person you want to talk to at the party is the person who has something interesting to say; someone with interesting and relevant stories to tell. A good conversationalist provides a bit of information, looks for acknowledgement (via a nod or uh-huh), and provides a bit more. This occurs one short idea at a time. Pauses occur frequently. The person talking thinks before talking. The people listening get the opportunity to think about what was just said.

If the listener has a question, the good conversationalist will immediately allow him or her to ask. If the listener has something to contribute to the conversation, based on his or her experience, the good conversationalist allows that contribution and builds upon it.

If a picture needs to be drawn, it will be drawn. Hopefully, the person drawing will not use one of the host's linen napkins, but the picture will be drawn for everyone to see at a rate at which everyone can participate. Six months from that date, everyone involved in the conversation would be able to look at the picture and remember specific elements of what was discussed.

Presentations should be more like conversations
When the picture is no longer necessary, it is removed from view. And the conversation continues.

This conversation will tap into the fact that human beings cannot think and listen at the same time. When the good conversationalist provides food for thought, he or she allows the receiver to think by stopping—by pausing. In that silence, the receiver is given the opportunity to move the idea from working memory to long-term memory, thereby finding a position for it within his or her existing cognitive framework.

The good conversationalist also knows that people won't remember what was said. Instead, they will remember what they thought about what was said. Conversationalists know how to use silence to influence when people think and what they think about, in order to communicate effectively.

I leave this thought with three questions: How many modern presentations resemble the person talking nonstop, versus the conversation?

Why can't all presentations be like conversations? And wouldn't the world be a better place if they were?

Next Version of PowerPoint Should Contain ...

I have been watching a conversation unfold on LinkedIn under the heading: “What would you most like to see in presentation software that isn’t available now?”

I have two suggestions.

First, the software should not allow a font size smaller than 72-point. If you use slides, this would pretty much guarantee that everyone in the room can read what’s on the slide.

My second suggestion is that the program be linked to your bank account. For every slide you use over five slides, $50 would be removed from your bank account and donated to the charity of your choice.

This would ensure that every slide you use has value, and would eliminate ‘Death by PowerPoint’ worldwide in a heartbeat.

Ditch the Progress Bar & Buy an Alarm Clock

I saw an interesting online discussion recently that started with:

“We are preparing a long presentation to introduce Windows 7 and Office 2010 features. We are using PPT 2010. We would like our slides to have a progress bar to indicate the progress of our show.”

I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that, instead of a progress bar, an alarm clock might be more valuable.

What do you think? Good idea? Or not?

Entertaining Video Takes Shot at PPT

I found this little gem on YouTube. Entitled STOP: You’re Killing Me With PowerPoint, it’s three minutes and fifteen seconds of entertaining rapping, with some interesting messages woven throughout.

Your charts and your graphs
they’re offendin’ my eyes.

Do you think you could cram
any more on that slide?

I once had a client tell me that their senior management team felt that too much PowerPoint was being used during briefings and presentations, so they limited everyone to six slides maximum. Two things happened.

First, they started getting four graphs per slide. Second, on those slides for which there were no graphs, the fonts shrank and the white space disappeared.

So if you want to increase
your influence.

Practice bullet point abstinence.

In my presentation skills training, I’ve often had people tell me they don’t use notes. They use bullet points. They put their bullets up and talk to them.

I always have to catch myself before I ask: “But do they ever talk back?”

Here’s to what we’re asking
before you waste our time.

With a deck of boring slides
just to toe the corporate line.

Think about your presentation.
What you want to say.

Then tell your story
in a compelling way.

Amen!

Watch the YouTube video.

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.Read more...