The Successful Presenter

Communicate When It Counts

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.

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.

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.

Relaxed Conversation: Your Best Style

Whenever we deliver a presentation, we need to achieve two goals: convey our message; convey our personality. Each of us achieves those goals every day in relaxed conversation.

The fundamental premise, therefore, is that relaxed conversation is our best possible presentation style. This video examines why it’s important to have the same conversation with the group that you had one-on-one.

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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.”

PowerPoint is a Tool

When people complain about ‘Death by PowerPoint’, someone often counters with: “Don’t blame the tool. PowerPoint is not the problem. It’s the person using the tool who’s at fault.”

I disagree.

Yes, PowerPoint is a tool. But it’s not the only tool available with which to communicate ideas. The problem is that it has become the universal tool used by everyone.

If you attend any presentation in a meeting room, boardroom, training room or classroom in our modern world, how many different tools will you see? In most of those venues, you won’t even find a whiteboard, which is another visual tool that can and should be used when appropriate.

Imagine that the mechanic where you get your vehicle serviced only has one tool with which to complete the job. Would that person be able to complete repairs using only a crescent wrench or screwdriver?

Possibly, but probably not.

If PowerPoint is the only tool you use, you’ve limited the size of your toolbox. If you limit your toolbox, be prepared to limit your results.

The Enemy is PowerPoint




Those words form the headline of a
Wall Street Journal article from a few years ago that focused on the amount of time and effort put into developing PowerPoint slides for the war in the Middle East, and how that time is relatively poorly expended.

picture of value
It’s a fascinating read. But behind the scenes are some excellent insights into improving presentations that come right from the top (the commanders themselves) and provide glimpses into the needs of senior executives from which everyone can learn and benefit.

The generals quoted in the article are all critical of PowerPoint, but each deals with the inevitability of PowerPoint in his own way. In their own way, each is implementing aspects of
The Audience Manifesto.

“Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reviews printed-out PowerPoint slides at his morning staff meeting, although he insists on getting them the night before so he can read ahead and cut back the briefing time.”

In other words, I can read faster than you can talk. Send me the reading. I’ll do it. Then you’ll answer my questions when we get together. And, by the way, don’t bring additional slides to the briefing.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says that sitting through some PowerPoint briefings is “just agony,” nonetheless likes the program for the display of maps and statistics showing trends.

If you have a picture of value to show me — one that is truly worth 1,000 words — show it. Otherwise, bring two pieces of paper (instead of 20) and/or learn to use the “B” key on your keyboard (and blank the screen) when the picture’s no longer necessary.

General Mattis, despite his dim view of the program, said a third of his briefings are by PowerPoint.

In other words, there are may brave people in the armed forces. Everyone knows the Boss hates PowerPoint, but a third of those serving under him have the courage to ignore his wishes and use it.