Rethinking the Visual Component of Your Presentations (Part 3 of 4)

September 9, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

This is the third in a series of four articles about the need to take a fresh look at the visuals you use in your presentations. In this article I’ll talk about images that you use during your presentations that exist on their own outside of it. Things like sales numbers, financial reports, marketing data, flow charts, and org charts. All of these things are essentially documents intended to be read.

When faced with the challenge of delivering this information, either you change the document to make your point clear (thereby making the document an effective visual aid in the traditional sense) or you leave the document as it is and guide the audience through it during delivery.

Whichever way you do it, you need to make sure your decision is appropriate for the audience.

If business presentations were always simple, predictable processes, involving very little interaction between you and your audience, your choice is easy. You would transform the document into a well-designed visual. You would simplify, streamline, edit, and determine precisely what the audience’s takeaway from the slide is.

But, because presentations are usually not simple or predictable, it’s not always possible to transform data into beautiful slides. Your audience may want or need more information than a well-designed slide will allow. They may want the details so they can discuss them with you. They may be stubborn or resistant and expect you to give them the information they need to be persuaded.

In these situations, you’re better off giving them the data and all of its detail to look at.

Just keep in mind that when you do this, the focus in the room changes. It shifts away from you and toward the visual. When that happens, the presentation becomes a group discussion and you become the facilitator of it. When the conversation about the data is over, you assume your role as presenter again, but for that short period of time your responsibilities are different.

Why is this an important distinction? Because you have to let the discussion take place. That requires giving up some of your control and letting the audience determine where the conversation goes. It’s important to make sure they know what they’re looking at and why. They need time to think, question, and discuss. Your job is to let the data become the subject of the conversation without derailing the presentation.

This process is another example of how your business presentations are different than formal speeches. Presentations often require an in-depth examination and discussion of the information. The visuals you use—regardless of their origin or design—should make the process as easy and productive as possible.

In the final article on this topic, I’ll discuss slides meant to bring emphasis or emotion to your presentations.

Part 1Part 2, Part 4

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Should I Apologize for Bad Slides?

January 15, 2009 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Improving Your Visual Aids, Preparation, Presentation

Question:
I’m stuck having to present some pretty bad slides.  They are too complicated and present more information than I need for my presentation.  I can’t change them for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here.  I’ve heard that you shouldn’t apologize for things like this by saying something like, “I know this is hard for you all to see,” but in this case I feel like I should.  What do you recommend?

Answer:
You’re not alone.  A lot of people are stuck having to present difficult, overloaded or poorly thought out slides.

You face two distinct challenges.  (1) As you prepare, you have to weed through the clutter and find the story you want to tell, and (2) you have to find a way to deliver that story – and have it make sense to your listeners – when the slide isn’t giving you much help.  Here are a few recommendations.

Challenge 1: Weed through the clutter
I’m afraid I can’t be of much help with this part of the dilemma, other than to encourage you to keep the big picture in mind.  Find the story you want to tell and stick with it.  You don’t have to talk about all the details on the slide if they don’t support your message.

Challenge 2: Help your listeners
When a busy slide comes up, your listeners’ eyes will go to it and try to figure it out.  Ideally they should be able to look at the slide and get a pretty clear understanding of it.  But if the slide is too complicated, they’re likely to give up.  Your job, then, is to help them through it.

  • Use the slide title
    If the title of the slide frames your story, use it to your advantage.  “As this title says, this is the sales forecast for Q3,” or “As you can see, we’re looking at the new workflow for project X.”
  • Acknowledge instead of apologize
    In your question you asked if it was appropriate to apologize.  First, I don’t think you’re breaking any sacred rule by apologizing for a difficult slide.  But moderation is key.  If you end up apologizing too much, your efforts won’t mean much.  Try shifting your thinking a bit.  Instead of apologizing for a busy slide, acknowledge it instead.  Use phrases like, “I know there’s a lot on this slide. I’d like to pull your attention to the upper right corner” or “Let’s focus right here,” as you point to that specific area on the screen.
  • Use triggers
    If you can, add triggers to direct attention to specific areas on the slide.  Triggers are things like arrows, circles or bold words.  Triggers tell your listeners that even though there’s a lot on the slide, you’re going to focus their attention on certain parts it.
  • Print handouts
    If listeners can’t see the detail on the screen, print the slide and give it to them as a handout.

In summary, you’re responsible for making sure listeners understand your message.  Even when you’re handed a difficult slide, do what you can to make sure that happens.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP and Trainer at Turpin Communication