There’s nothing worse than falling asleep during a presentation…
This time, I’m going to stay awake. So far, so good… I’m following what he’s saying… But I wonder why the text on the screen looks really black, when the area around the slide looks kind of grey? It’s just the colour of the screen so it should look the same. I mean you can’t project more black. Must be a contrast thing. Aren’t brains weird? Wait a minute, what was he saying? Now my eyelids are getting heavy…
If you’ve ever had that feeling of jerking awake as your head falls off your shoulders, you’ll know there’s nothing much worse than trying to stay awake during a dull presentation. Everyone behind you has noticed your head making small circles and slow-bouncing nods — but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t stay awake. You’re a bear hit with a tranquilizer dart — you can fight it, but after a few wobbly steps you’re going down. You just have to hope you don’t start drooling or let out any inadvertent snorts as you wake up.
Come to think of it, there is one thing that’s worse. It’s far worse to be the one delivering a bad presentation.
A half-hour talk given to an audience of 20 uses up 10 hours of other people’s time. There’s no reason in the world not to make it awesome. Here’s how you can stop draining people with your presentations and start delivering awesome ones.
Martin Luther King didn’t need ihaveadream.ppt, nor did Abraham Lincoln run around at Gettysburg looking for a USB drive to transfer his file to another computer. 99% of the time, PowerPoint just isn’t necessary.
Okay…PowerPoint can be useful in some circumstances, but it’s usually misused. Just having the information presented doesn’t mean it goes into the audience’s anesthetised brain, and covering all the points doesn’t mean you’ve communicated them.
So many presentations are built from PowerPoint from the very start, but structuring a presentation around slides affects how you communicate. Making slides your focus of attention is a terrible way to do it.
Forget PowerPoint- at least until you’ve planned what you’re going to talk about — then (and only where necessary) use a few slides to support what you say, rather than planning what you say around your slides.
Just watch a TED talk or two; unless it’s someone from National Geographic speaking, there are usually hardly any slides at all.
Speak to an Audience of One
If you had to explain your work to just one person, it’d just be weird to prepare a PowerPoint slide for everything you have to say. You’d be disconnected from the person you were speaking to. So why do you need it in order to communicate effectively with a larger group?
Slides deflect attention from you as the speaker, weakening (rather than reinforcing) what you actually say. Sure, you need to find your voice — especially if you’re nervous — so you might want to prepare a presentation with all the bells, whistles and animations you can cram in. But if you have something important to say, just say it, as you would with an audience of one. Then the bells, whistles and animations are just window dressing.
The Three-Minute Rule
If you only had 3 minutes to make your point (and then people could choose to leave) what would you say? If you want to give awesome presentations, this is where you should start.
In fact, you probably have less than three minutes to really get people’s attention — and it’s certainly true that once you lose their attention, it’s almost impossible to get it back.
After your three-minute opener, you can then go into some of the detail. Hold back some information during the presentation, and think of it as a way of stimulating the audience’s appetite rather than force-feeding them.
The ultimate test of whether you’ve given an awesome presentation is whether the audience asks you any questions at the end. It means they are interested in the details, and you can give them exactly what they tell you they want — rather than what you think they want.
If nobody asks a question, it doesn’t mean that they understood everything you’ve said. It means nobody cared about it.
(Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 generic license.)
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