Presentations

by Steve Roche

Preparation – delivery mechanisms

How do you want to deliver your material? Which medium will be best for the occasion?

  • OHP (overhead projector)
  • Slides
  • PowerPoint slides
  • Film or video
  • Flip chart
  • Whiteboard
  • Supporting materials/examples for demonstration

You may, of course, choose to use none of these. You may be constrained by what is available at the venue. Sometimes it depends on your material. For example, if you have important and relevant material on video, clearly you will strive to use it.

Other factors may also affect your ability to gain and keep audience interest:

  • People used to seeing endless PowerPoint presentations might welcome a change
  • Flip charts and whiteboards add informality and encourage participation.

Use of visual aids

Some presenters think that a presentation is the visual aids they use – and that their part in it is simply to supply a voice-over to the visuals. This approach is usually based on fear and wanting to hide away. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Is this visual aid really necessary?
  • Would my presentation suffer without it?

If the answer is ‘no’, then leave it out.

Visibility and clarity

If you choose to use a visual aid, it’s important to check that it will be effective.

  • Can my visual aid be seen easily and clearly from all parts of the room?
  • Is it simple, spare and easily understood?
  • Does the information need to be visible?

A lot of material that is displayed on projectors (such as complex graphs and figures) would be better included in a handout at the end of a presentation.

The visual aid is there to assist audience comprehension and recall. Do not look at it while speaking.

  • Pause silently and look at the visual aid.
  • Point at the section to which you are referring.
  • Look back to the audience.
  • Speak to the audience.

Flipcharts

Why has the flipchart, the most low-tech of visual aids, remained popular for so long? Perhaps it’s because not much can go wrong with it. Flipcharts can be prepared in advance or used for words, diagrams and pictures as you go along.

Flipchart skills

The usefulness of flipcharts can be hugely improved by following a few simple tips.

  • Practise flipchart writing until it is as clear as your normal writing.
  • If you are concerned about writing straight, draw lines beforehand (or buy lined flipchart pads).
  • Always have a supply of flipchart pens with you.
  • Use bold colours for visibility – black, blue, darker reds and greens.
  • Leave a blank sheet to stop the writing from the previous sheet showing through.
  • Use both upper and lower case.
  • Pre-draw diagrams or charts in pencil: the audience can’t see your outline and will be impressed with your skills.

Projectors

A projector image is bigger than a flipchart, and its position can be adjusted for maximum visibility.

Using projectors

Again, a little forethought will ensure that you are not caught out.

  • Make sure you have a spare bulb with you.
  • Know how to use your projector.
  • Take an extension lead.
  • Use a remote or handheld mouse if you use a laptop.
  • A plain white sheet and drawing pins will serve as a screen in a crisis.

Slides

Some presentation programmes, such as PowerPoint, have become a victim of their own popularity and of overuse. Nothing kills a lively meeting faster, putting everyone to sleep, than yet another bog-standard PowerPoint presentation.

What is the optimum way to get your points across, bearing in mind your objectives and your outcomes? Can you increase the human contact using stories, demonstrations, and getting your audience active and involved? If so, your slides will make much more impact.

Using slides

Below are some tips that will help you to use your slides to their best advantage.

  • People read faster than you can speak. If you are repeating what’s on the slide, you are guaranteed to lose your audience within a minute.
  • Make any wording legible and big enough for those at the back to read easily.
  • Keep the number of slides as small as possible.
  • Make them interesting: only use a slide if it adds to or illustrates something in a helpful way.
  • Bear in mind the rule (see the box below) that people can only remember 7 plus or minus 2 bits of information at one time.
  • Put detailed information on handouts.
  • Use pictures (photos, drawings, cartoons, symbols, logos and so on).
  • Avoid constant logos and repetitive headings.
  • Use simple and familiar fonts that are easy to read.
  • Use a mixture of upper and lower case.
  • Add a bit of colour – but not so much it becomes a distraction.
  • Make sure computer presentations are backed up on disk.
  • Get sumone to check your speling for oblivious and sutble mistaeks.
Fact

Research by psychologist George Miller has revealed that the maximum amount of ‘information’ people can deal with is 7 plus or minus 2 bits. In other words, the most we can hold in our minds is between 5 and 9 things. When we reach our limit, we go into a state of overwhelm or confusion.

Quality versus quantity

Some presenters love to cram their slides to bursting point. Clear all the distractions off the slides and have a maximum of either three bullets down with five words across or five bullets down with three words across. Any more than that and the audience will be reading the slides rather than listening to you.

Example

Three bullets down with five words across

  • Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah
  • Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah
  • Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

or five bullets down with three words across.

  • Blah Blah Blah
  • Blah Blah Blah
  • Blah Blah Blah
  • Blah Blah Blah
  • Blah Blah Blah
Tip

The T-shirt principle (less is more): how many words can you get on a T-shirt so that it’s still legible to a passer-by? Slides should be the same – visual, aesthetic and minimalist.

Microphones and PA systems

Avoid using amplification wherever possible. Instead, develop your voice to increase audibility. See more in the topic on Voice Skills.

If you have to use a microphone – perhaps at a conference – practise with it and get someone to do an audibility check with you before the audience arrives. It’s irritating when a speaker begins by poking the microphone to see if it’s working. It usually is, in which case both the poking and the horrible noise it makes were unnecessary.