I just finished conducting a 2-day presentation on environmental regulations in California. As I have done in the past few years, none of my PowerPoint presentation contained any bullet points. Here are a couple of comments about the presentation format from the audience:
“Great review of environmental regulations and law; enjoy the format; presentation was great because it wasn’t filled with bullet points; like that it was simplified.”
“Usually when a presenter uses PowerPoint, they tend to use it as their presentation. Mr. Wei used it to supplement his presentation as an aid. It tends to keep the audience more engaged and interested in the presentation.”
These comments were from two Special Agents with the federal government.
Kodak has just announced that it will retire its Kodachrome color slide film after 74 years. It was done in by the digital media AND PowerPoint. We will miss those beautiful color slides of our family.
But we will not miss those 14 bullet points jammed into one single Kodachrome slide.
In the bad old days when we had to pay some company $3 or $4 for every single slide we need for our presentation, we naturally put as much information as possible on a single slide. It made economic sense then.
But now – thanks to PowerPoint – we can have as many slides as we want and they are all FREE!!! So there is NO need to jam 14 bullet points in a single slide and put the audience in a deep coma.
Remember – one point per slide and lots of pictures.
Here is another good reason why you should not jam 10 bullet points on a single PowerPoint slide:
Multi-media research has shown that people learn more and retain more when information is presented to them in bite-size chunks.
Quickly – What do you make of this: WIFIIBMCPAIRSCIAKGBYMCA? This is what happens when you lump too much information on a single slide.
Now what if you separate them into bite-size pieces like this:
WIFI IBM CPA IRS CIA KGB YMCA.
I rest my case.
I did a 2-day presentation to a group in Virginia Beach last week. The topic is a rather dry one – how to stay in compliance with environmental laws andregulations. Instead of giving the audience a copy of the presentation material at the beginning, I gave each attendee a 4-page summary containing 3 key points to remember for each of the 11 sessions. There is room on the handout for them to take their own notes and to add more points to remember. At the end of the 2-day conference, I gave each participant a copy of a CD that contains a 400-page PDF document that is both searchable and printable. This document has all the topics that I covered in technical detail.
The arrangement worked out remarkably well. The attendees were able to take notes AND pay attention to the presentation. There was nothing for them to read ahead of my presentation so they focused on the presentation.
By the way – no one fell asleep. Many just noticed the presentation was “more refreshing” than the usual presentations they had been exposed to. They just enjoyed it. They didn’t even noticed there were no bullet points until I pointed that out to them.
Your audience does not want to hear a mousy or timid speaker. Whatever you do, don’t let them see you sweat. You may be the world’s expert on the topic at hand, if your audience sees you sweat, some of them will think that’s because you are not sure of your subject.
This judgment is probably unfair to you. But perception is reality.
Your audience will always expect you to have more knowledge than they do on your presentation topic. After all, that’s why they show up to hear youn give a talk on your ideas. When they sense that you are nervous and seemingly unsure of yourself, they will tune you out and reject your ideas altogether. Remember that people seldom buy an idea without first buying the originator of that idea. They will judge your ideas by the way you present them.
Another tip: It is not necessary for you to cover all possible combinations and permutations in your presentation. You employ a technique known as “cognizant omission” used by many professional speakers. For example: You start by telling your audience that you have looked at all possible scenarios and you have narrowed them down to three that are worthy of further discussions. In that way, no one in the audience is going to think that you have ignored or overlooked some salient points of your argument.
This is the title of a book on business communication by Michael McMaster and John Grinder. It is one of the best books on this subject. It talks about how to obtain high quality information in business. For example: common business terms such as productivity, motivation, and profit are used often in a business setting and yet these terms are “low quality” words in that different people have different ideas of what these terms mean to them based on their own past experience. The highest quality is what can actually be seen, heard or felt. Compare these two statements: “Our machines are not very productive.” and “Machine #42 operated by Tom only works half of the time.” Which statement is more precise and has better quality information for you to take action?
According to the authors of this interesting book, “many management mistakes are the results of acting on a belief in a common understanding of words which, in fact, does not exist.” Misunderstanding occurs when people are not precise in communicating ideas. The same holds in presentation. When you make your point in a PowerPoint presentation, you want to be as precise as possible so that your audience will understand exactly what you are trying to convey. That’s why a three-word bullet point will not work. Instead you should describe your point in a short sentence and reinforce that point with a visual presentation (a photo) that is relevant to the topic. You are trying to make a point that can be seen, heard or felt by your audience.
If you are held captive and your captor tells you that you are allowed to read only one book, which book would you pick?
For me, the choice is “Moving Mountains” by Henry Boettinger. It is by far the best book on communication. It was written back in 1969 by an AT&T executive in England. The language is a bit dated but the advice offered there is timeless.
Peter Drucker’s review appears on the book cover as follows: “A first-class and highly original, but also highly practical, treatise both on how one thinks and how one presents thinking.”
On presentation, Boettinger states that each person listens for his own reason. So it is not what you say that matters; it is what people hear. Before you make a presentation, you need to really try to understand the various reasons people show up to hear you.
On elegance, Boettinger says that it “exists when a great many aspects of a subject or person are expressed in the simplest possible way.”
On passion, he writes that “you can never affect others if you yourself are not affected by the idea”. That’s why people who read from their speeches or presentations can never convince their audience because there is no passion there. The audience can sense it right away.
Boettinger also says that you should always “treat the audience as equals during the presentation”. If you talk down to the audience, they become resentful. If you try to kiss up to the audience, they despise you.
The best quote from the book is what Boettinger says about making presentations: ” Presentation of ideas is conversation carried on at high voltage — at once more dangerous and more powerful.”
This book is 340 pages of great practical and timeless advice. The bad news is that it is out of print and it is a bit hard to find. Some libraries carry them. You may find it at Amazon or EBay.