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”

Rethinking the Visual Component of Your Presentations (Part 1 of 4)

August 5, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

We need a new way to talk about the visual component of business presentations. I didn’t use the term “visual aids” to describe this part of the process for a reason. That term, one that has been around long enough to have been applied to everything from a flip chart to a 35 mm slide to an overhead transparency and now PowerPoint slides, is losing its usefulness.

It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the term. It’s just that “visual aids” are associated with the following universally accepted best practices, all of which need to be reexamined in light of today’s presentations.

  1. Your slides are visual aids. Their role is subordinate to the presenter.
  2. Visuals must be simple and communicate their message quickly.
  3. Graphics are better than words.
  4. Bullet points are boring.
  5. Never, ever project an “eye chart” (a detailed slide with words and numbers too small for the audience to read).

Don’t get me wrong. There is truth to be found in each of these statements. But it’s only partial truth—not true in all situations and not true all the time.

We see this in every workshop we deliver. Business presenters use—and use well—a broad range of visual support in their presentations. When we work with them, they always assume that we’re going to condemn any slide that breaks any of the standard rules. “Sorry, I know this is a complicated slide …” or “Now I know you’re not going to like this, but I need to project this spreadsheet because …”

We tell these presenters to relax. We aren’t the PowerPoint Police. We aren’t going to confiscate their slides. What we will do is help them figure out the best way to communicate the information that needs to be communicated. Sometimes that has to do with simplifying or altering the slide. Sometimes it has more to do with how the slide is explained during delivery.

What would make this process easier for everyone is a better way to think about all the different types of visuals we use. We need to answer questions like these:

  1. As you know, we define presentations as Orderly Conversations. We need to ask how the slides you use contribute to the process. Do they bring order to or are they the subject of the conversation?
  2. Does the information or data on the slide exist outside the presentation, as a sales report, financial report, marketing data, or flow chart, for example? Or was the slide created specifically for this presentation?
  3. Is the slide meant to bring emphasis or emotion to the presentation?

In the next three posts, I’ll focus on these questions.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

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