We Are Not the PowerPoint Police

January 12, 2015 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation, Training

PowerPointPoliceBannerPeople often ask us about the rules for PowerPoint. Some examples include, “What’s the rule for …

  • the number of bullets on a slide?”
  • the number of words per bullet?”
  • the number of slides a presentation should have?”
  • the right font to use?”
  • the right size font to use?”

We also hear apologies like these:

  • “I know this is a lousy slide, but I didn’t have time to fix it.”
  • “You’re going to hate this slide, but my manager requires this format.”
  • “Sorry this is such a busy slide, but …”

Our response is always this:

Relax. We’re not the PowerPoint Police.

When we say this in our presentation skills workshops, there are two typical responses.

  1. Puzzlement. It’s as if we can hear the person thinking, “Come on. You’re the presentation expert. You should have rules about PowerPoint!”
  2. Relief. “Oh, thank goodness. Those rules about PowerPoint never made any sense to me.”

It’s true we’re presentation experts; and it’s also true that many of the rules out there don’t make any sense.

We’re not saying that there aren’t basic design guidelines that can enhance the design of a slide. What we are saying is that there are no hard-and-fast rules that must always be followed.

Why?

Because life isn’t that simple.

Imagine Walt Disney in a meeting where he had to present the 7 Dwarfs concept via PowerPoint. Unfortunately for Walt, some trainer had told him years ago that he could never have more than 6 bullets per slide. What’s he to do? Split them up onto separate slides? That doesn’t make any sense. Instead, he needs to be a pragmatist, ignore the rule, and list all 7 dwarfs together on one slide. (He could use just their pictures, but that assumes he’d remember their names. That’s a dangerous assumption if Walt’s experiencing nervousness that day.)

But, less is more, right?

Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to PowerPoint, but if following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule and must be set aside.[Tweet “If following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule”]

So what do you recommend?

We like to think of PowerPoint as a tool to provide structure and to trigger the presenter’s thoughts. You are your presentation, not the slides. Use them to guide you through the presentation, rather than BEING the presentation. It will make your life easier. It will make the task of following you easier as well.

We’ve blogged and vlogged about these concepts several times over the years. Follow this link to read more.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

A New Definition of Success

June 30, 2014 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Nervousness, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation, Training

Why a Performance Approach to Business Presentations Doesn’t Work

greg_owen_boger_300Presentations should not be confused with speeches. Speeches are a type of performance. Presentations are a type of conversation. That’s why we’ve redefined them as “Orderly Conversations.”

Unfortunately, many people, even industry experts, hang on to the idea that a presentation should be “performed,” that it can be perfected by scripting, rehearsing, planning when and how to gesture, and following rules. These rules can be about all kinds of things, like the “right” number of bullets, never looking at your slides, holding your hands a certain way, or pausing for dramatic purposes.

As Dale Ludwig writes in chapter 5 of our new book The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined: “When rules like these are applied without consideration of their effectiveness or appropriateness for an individual, they stop being the means to an end and become the end themselves. This makes presenting more difficult for the presenter and less effective for the audience.”

Three Types of Performers
What we’ve seen is that business presenters who follow a performance approach generally fall into three categories:

  1. The Nervous Perfectionist
  2. The Dutiful Student
  3. The Entertainer

Let’s take a look at the negative consequences of each type of performer and offer up a better way forward.

The Nervous Perfectionist
In the book, we write about Jennifer, a Nervous Perfectionist. She puts an extraordinary amount of time into planning her presentation and rehearses it several times before the big day. Her goal is to perfect her delivery.

Unfortunately, during her last presentation, Jennifer felt like a failure because things didn’t go as she’d planned. Her solution was to rehearse more the next time.

Jennifer’s assumptions look like this:
A New Definition of Success pic 1 6-30-14

Dale writes: “As Jennifer moved through each of these steps, she assumed she was gradually taking control over the process. But it didn’t work. What happened to Jennifer actually looks like this.”
A New Definition of Success pic 2 6-30-14

Dale goes on: “As you can see, Jennifer’s nervousness led her to rehearse, which turned her presentation into a performance. This made her more self-conscious and more nervous. Her decision to rehearse more for the next presentation just repeats the cycle.”

The Dutiful Student, a New Definition of Success and a True Story
Another type of performance-focused presenter is what we call the Dutiful Student. Dutiful Students want rules they can follow. After all, their thinking goes, there must be a better and worse way to do something. Give me rules and I’ll follow them.

Last week in a workshop, we met Sandra (not her real name). She is a Subject Matter Expert and accidental trainer. Several times she asked, “What’s the rule for… “

As proof of her allegiance to the “prepare, prepare, prepare” rule, she pulled out a three ring binder containing her training slide deck. Each slide, complete with script in the speaker notes, was laminated for safekeeping.

We asked her how long it takes her to get ready to actually deliver the training. She said with a sigh, “Weeks and weeks. It’s far too time-consuming, and I have a lot of other responsibilities.” She was clearly frustrated by this.

When we asked her how she felt when learners asked questions, she said she hated it because it pulls her out of her script. “I have to think a lot when I’m up there. If they interrupt me it just throws me off.”

As the discussion went on, Sandra and her classmates agreed that her process is inefficient and didn’t create the conditions for fruitful learning. In Sandra’s attempt to follow rules and perfect the delivery of her training, she lost sight of her goal, which was to teach, to inspire learning.

Create the Conditions for a Fruitful Conversation
We worked with Sandra to help her create the conditions for a fruitful conversation. The first step was to turn her focus away from herself and toward her learners. She needed to get out of her head and actually speak with them.

During the first exercise in class, Sandra’s instruction was to introduce herself to the group and to engage them in a conversation about her job responsibilities. After several attempts, she finally settled into the conversation. She actually saw them and their reactions. She responded to them in the “here and now.” They asked questions, and Sandra answered them with ease.

This exercise was recorded on video. As she and I watched it a little later she said, “I forgot about thinking, and just did it! I just talked with them.” She was amazed that she could actually stand in front of the group and hold a conversation. She wasn’t thinking about her gestures, or even what to say. She was engaged in the here and now of the conversation, and it came naturally to her.

As we continued to talk, she made a connection that will stick with her well into the future. She said, “You know … as I think about it, I do my best teaching at the bar after my sessions. Now that I know why that is, I have a new definition of success!”

The Entertainer
In the book, we also talk about Sophia, an Entertainer. The character of Sophia was inspired by a young man (we’ll call him Calvin) that I worked with years ago. He was in sales and approached his sales presentations as if he were a comedian on a stage.

Calvin had a larger than life personality, a toothy smile, and a presentation style to go with it. I remember he swaggered to the front of the room and asked if we were ready. When we said yes, he snapped into action. It was as if the spotlight had just been turned on.

I remember that Calvin’s boss caught me in the hall that day and invited me into his office for a chat. As it turned out, Calvin’s job was on the line. His buyers weren’t buying, and none of his co-workers wanted to work with him. Calvin was over the top and perceived as phony. Not exactly the type of person most people want to work with or buy from.

So What Does This Mean for You?
Dale writes: “The lure of the performance approach is control; presenters use it because they assume success comes from planning exactly what they are going to say and how they will say it in advance of the presentation. This also means, their thinking goes, that success can be reached fairly easily because all they have to do is remember the plan and follow the rules. The danger is that exercising this level of control over the process pulls your focus away from the here and now of the conversation and leads, for many people, to increased nervousness and heightened self-consciousness.”

The more effective and efficient way to prepare for and deliver your presentations is to think of them as Orderly Conversations. Your role, then, is to prepare for and lead a listener-focused, flexible and responsive conversation. And when you do, it will make all the difference.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

The Orderly Conversation is now available at Amazon.com

Presentation Myth: Simple Slides are Always Better

June 10, 2014 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked

A recent workshop participant said, “I don’t want to simplify this slide. The abundance of the data is where the story is.”

Simple Slides are Always Better 6-9-14

As his coach, I cannot argue with that. This is exactly why those one-size-fits-all rules about the number of bullets or words on a slide don’t work.

Admittedly, sometimes less is more. (And we do help our clients simplify their slides and their message when necessary.) But as this workshop participant said, sometimes the message is better communicated through lots of data.

Slide Vs. Handout
The slide pictured here would be, admittedly, a lousy visual aid if it were projected onto a screen. It’s too busy and would be hard to read, so in cases such as this, be sure to include a hard copy of the slide so that people can read and study it as part of your presentation.

I encourage you to think critically about the rules you’ve heard about slide design and business presentations. As Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s founder, often says, “If a slide doesn’t help you move the conversation forward, it’s a lousy visual aid.”

What “rules” for presenting do you break?

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

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

September 24, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 1Part 2, Part 3

This is the final article in a series focusing on the need to take a fresh look at the visuals you use in your presentations. This article focuses on visuals intended to bring emphasis or emotion to the conversation. This type of visual might be a photograph (a completed project or happy employees, for example), a simple graphic (an arrow pointing up or down), or a trigger added to emphasize part of a more complex image (a circle around a single bar on a bar chart).

Because these visuals are used for emphasis and clarity, let’s call them punctuation slides. When used well, they make your message easier to understand and remember.

While punctuation slides can be very effective, there are two things to consider before using them.

First, will they be appropriate? As you know, it’s often hard to predict what will happen during an Orderly Conversation. The mood in the room may not be what you anticipate during preparation. A visual meant to communicate optimism might fall flat with a group of listeners feeling something else. So it’s important to anticipate how the visual may be received and interpreted by your audience.

Second, are you prepared to deliver them well?

  • Timing: If you’re using a slide to spark emotion, it needs to come into the conversation at the right moment and, once there, be allowed to do its job. For the presenter, that means knowing precisely when to advance to that slide and pausing long enough for the visual impact to be made.
  • Acknowledging: Just because the image on a punctuation slide is easy for listeners to understand, doesn’t mean you can ignore it during delivery. Often, presenters struggle to know what to say when they’re using this type of slide. But, just like any other, punctuation slides need to be acknowledged and explained. For example, “I’m really excited to show you how well this project turned out. Before we get into the details, here’s a photograph of the team at our last meeting. It’s easy to see the pride on all those smiling faces.”
  • Matching the emotion: When your slides communicate emotion, you should too. If your slide communicates optimism, happiness, or celebration, your audience needs to hear it in your voice and see it on your face. If they don’t, you’re sending a mixed and confusing message.

Like the framing and content slides discussed in the last two articles, punctuation slides serve a specific purpose during your presentations. Knowing what that purpose is and what it means for delivery will help you use them successfully.

Part 1Part 2, Part 3

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 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”

Sometimes the slide IS more important

January 14, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Presentation

I was working with a presenter the other day who was stuck in what we call no man’s land. No man’s land is a spot about half way between the laptop and the screen. It doesn’t matter what size the room is or how the equipment is set up; No man’s land is always the spot right in the middle.

When presenters are stuck in this spot they are usually facing the audience and making tentative gestures toward the projected slide. While they do that, they’re also sneaking quick looks at the slide— on either the laptop monitor or the screen—as if they don’t want anyone to know they’re looking at it. The audience always knows what they’re doing, of course, so the presenter usually winds up looking tentative and uncomfortable.

I asked this presenter, let’s say her name was Audrey, why she didn’t just turn and look at the slide when she needed to refer to it. She said that she had always been told that a slide is a visual aid and that it is never more important than what the presenter is saying. So if she looked at the slide she would be directing too much attention to it.

When I get comments like this the first thing I try to do is find the truth in what the presenter is saying—whoever gave Audrey this advice was trying to solve a real problem, after all. In this case, presenters who look at the screen when they don’t need to. The solution, as you know if you’ve been through one of our workshops, is to move to the screen, direct the audience’s attention where it needs to go, then move away from the screen when the audience doesn’t need to look at it anymore. This process directs everyone’s focus to the slide for as long as it needs to be there and no longer.

What jumped out at me with Audrey was her comment about slides being visual aids, the idea that the presenter is always more important than the slide and so should get the audience’s focus almost all the time.

For the business presenters we work with this isn’t true. There are times when the slide is more important, when it becomes the subject of the conversation, something to be studied and discussed. It might be a detailed spreadsheet, a work flow diagram, or any other detailed image that is included in the presentation because it needs to be there.

So don’t feel you’re doing something wrong if everyone, including you, is focused on the slide for an extended period of time. In a lot of situations, that’s exactly what needs to happen.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

My Time Has Been Cut Short!

October 29, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Preparation, Presentation

I was on LinkedIn today and ran across a discussion that caught my eye. The question that was posed was this: “You prepared a 30 minute presentation and when you arrived it was reduced to 20 minutes. What would you do?”

This is a common occurrence, of course. Meetings often run long. If you’re at the end of the day, you should probably expect that time will be running short when your turn comes around. Some of the responses to this question got things right. Others—like the person who said that the thing to do is talk faster—got it very wrong.

The issue comes down to flexibility. Business presenters need to be flexible regardless of how much time they have. They always need to respond to the immediate needs of the audience, and “let’s get this done more quickly” is just one of those needs. Here’s what we recommend to help presenters be more flexible:

  1. Prepare the shorter and longer version for each point or each slide. To help you with that, make sure your slide title is meaningful.
  2. Be able to explain your ideas in a variety of ways. As you prepare, think about how you would make your point to people with different perspectives or levels of knowledge.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask your audience how they would like you to focus the presentation. This can be done after you’ve delivered your agenda. Say something like, “I know time is precious today, so which of these four points would you like me to focus on?”
  4. When you’re asked a question, deliver the short answer first. If you decide to say more, make sure it’s worth the time it takes to do so.
  5. Accept the idea that to be concise you need to stop talking about something before you want to. This may sound silly, but it is absolutely true. Letting yourself talk until you’re satisfied usually doesn’t make the answer any better.

Managing a shorter-than-expected presentation can be frustrating, but a flexible presenter who stays focused on what the audience needs and wants to hear can succeed comfortably.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Focus on Context

October 23, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

If you’re a business presenter, you know that one of the challenges you face is context. Not only do you need to think about how your recommendations fit into the context of your listeners’ lives, but you also have to consider how each of your slides fits into the context of the presentation as a whole.

One way to do this is by talking about the preparation decisions you made during delivery. This might sound strange, but it makes sense. When you prepare your presentation, after all, what you’re doing is anticipating the moment of delivery. You create slides to make understanding easier. You think about what your audience will need or want to reach the decision you want them to reach.

During delivery, then, it’s useful to talk about how a particular slide found its way into the presentation. Why has this information been included? Where did it come from? What’s important about it? This information will not only make the presentation easier to follow, but it will also help you adapt to whatever digression may have taken place during the conversation.

Here are some examples.

What’s the purpose of the slide?

  • “This slide will give us some perspective on where we are with this project. As you can see, six months ago …”
  • “The information on this slide expands on the pricing information I mentioned earlier.”

When was the slide made?

  • “When I put this slide together, I didn’t have access to all the current data, but …”
  • “This slide is from last quarter. Let’s look at it in comparison to where we are today.”

Who created the slide?

  • “This slide came from our marketing department. It’s typically used to compare trends over time with various customers. For our purposes today we’re going to look at just this small slice of data …”
  • “I got this slide from our friends in finance, it shows us …”

What does the slide mean to the audience?

  • “I included this slide because I knew William and Patrice were unfamiliar with the decisions we reached last month. So here’s an overview of that.”
  • “For the marketing people in the room, I know some of this will be confusing. Don’t worry. This is information for the folks in Customer Care.”

What does the slide mean to you?

One way to help listeners understand data is to talk about what it means to you, especially when your function or perspective is different than theirs.

  • “From my marketing perspective, this is a trend we need to watch because …”
  • “From a financial point of view, these numbers are great, but I can’t speak about what the long-term effect of the price increase is on consumer behavior.”

The next time you’re delivering a presentation think about the process you went through when preparing it. Doing so will create context and make understanding much easier for your listeners.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Use internal agendas to reinforce your presentation’s structure.

September 24, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Preparation, Presentation, Video

Greg Owen-Boger, VP of Turpin Communication, shows how using internal agendas can keep both the presenter and the audience on track.

How much detail should be included on PowerPoint slides? Part 2

August 9, 2011 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Preparation

Part 2 of 2

greg 200x300This is part 2 of an article I posted last week about rethinking how much information you put in your presentation slides. As I said, anyone who champions rules about these things is missing the big picture and leading you astray.

Instead, we need to take a fresh look. I used the GPS metaphor to describe how to rethink your slides so that they help you move your audience from point A to point B.

But as I pointed out, this metaphor only works if you’ve crafted your slides well. Here’s what I meant.

As you prepare:
The first step is to analyze your audience and figure out what they already know about your topic. Think of this as the place you’ll pick them up (Point A). Next select your destination. Where do you want to take them? That’s Point B.

Next figure out your agenda. This will be the route you’ll take. Just like a GPS, you’ll have options. Will you take the freeway, which is a relatively easy trip with just a few turns and requires limited guidance? Or, will you take the street-level route, which will require more detailed guidance?

Whichever option you choose, make sure your trip is logically mapped out and draft your agenda to lead the way.

Once your agenda is crafted, it’s time to work on the body slides. Begin with one body slide per agenda point. Label it using the language you used in the agenda. In other words if your agenda point #1 is “Market Share is Growing,” body slide #1 should be titled the same. As you develop the presentation, you’ll probably need to add more supporting slides, but this is a good start.

So now you’ve got a plan. Your agenda and slide titles mark the milestones for your trip. It’s time to fill in the details. Use words and images that help you stay on track. For example, the GPS doesn’t tell you to “go north.” Instead it recognizes exactly where you are and gives you directions from that point of view: “Turn right.” That’s much more useful when you’re in unfamiliar territory. The content of your slides should be just as easy to follow.

Add just enough detail to support you as you manage the conversation. Remember how Allison Rossett  (from part 1) said that the GPS makes you smarter than you are where and when you need the information? The same is true here. You don’t have to memorize a script or any section of your presentation; you just need to be able to rely on your slides to lead you from point to point.

The best laid plans…
Now, before you present you need to re-familiarize yourself with your plan. If you’re like me, you created your slides a week ago and by the time you have to present you’ve forgotten the logic behind them.

I recommend paging through your slide deck looking only at the slide titles. Do they spark the right thoughts? Does the route you’ve chose still seem logical? If not, fiddle with them until they do. (If you do make changes, make sure you change the agenda to match.)

Next, go through the deck again. This time look at everything on the slides. Again, ask yourself if what’s there is sparking the right thoughts. If not, change them until they do.

Trust the GPS
So now you’re ready to meet up with your audience and drive the conversation from A to B. Trust your slides to lead you. You don’t have to say things perfectly or remember every single data point. Your slides are there to remind you of those things. Remember, they’ll make you smarter than you are, but only if you trust them.

Keep in mind that the presentation is a conversation. This means it might get a little messy. You’re going to say things you didn’t plan, your thoughts will lead you in new directions and you’ll go down unfamiliar streets. Audience members will take you on a detour by asking questions. All of these things are OK and are expected. Think of it as taking the scenic route. When it’s time to get back on track, simply rely on your slides to guide you.

Presenting doesn’t have to be such hard work.
By following these recommendations (instead of following arbitrary rules about numbers of bullets), you won’t have to work so hard when you present. Your slides will keep you on track and help you manage the detours. In other words, they’ll be there when you need them and make you smarter than you are.

by Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President, Turpin Communication