Tips and Advice from Presentation Professionals
By Barry Mitsch
When a business professional is asked to give a presentation, he typically begins his preparation by creating slides using a popular software program. It is commonplace for presenters to use a laptop computer accompanied by an LCD projector when speaking to both small and large audiences. But is this technology improving presentations or creating a barrier between the speaker and the audience?
While technology has created exciting tools for speakers, the fundamental elements of a presentation have not changed since the days of Aristotle.
Aristotle wrote that successful persuasion needed to have three elements known as the logos, ethos, and pathos. Loosely translated, the logos refers to the logical organization of a message; the ethos refers to the credibility of the speaker; and the pathos refers to the importance of adapting a message to the audience's needs or emotions. In other words, any successful presentation must be well organized, customized to a specific audience, and delivered by a credible speaker.
So what about the technology?
Technology is simply a tool that can, at its best, enhance a presentation. But computer-generated slides with full color backgrounds and animated delivery are a supplement, not a substitute, for carefully organized content that is skillfully delivered.
YOU are the presentation, not the technology. Great technology will not overcome poor content. In fact, a great presentation can be delivered without a single slide. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy...they all crafted memorable speeches without a laptop computer. The key is using technology in a way that will enhance your spoken words.
A common mistake made by many speakers is to begin planning a presentation by first creating visual aids. Actually, this is the reverse of what should happen. Visual aids should only be created after carefully identifying the objective or purpose of a presentation, analyzing the audience, and developing appropriate content. And the content for a presentation is selected only if it meets the overarching interests of a specific audience.
Once the content of a presentation has been thoroughly developed, it is time to ask the question, "Will a visual aid enhance the audience's understanding of what I am saying?" If the answer is yes, then pull out the computer and get to work on some slides.
Any visual aid will meet four criteria if it is successful:
First, it will be necessary. In other words, you have reached the conclusion that a visual aid will be helpful in delivering your message.
Second, it’s in the most appropriate visual format – in other words, it is the best way to show your ideas. In fact, there are infinite ways to create effective visual aids, not all of which require technology. Demonstrations, displays, and photographs are all low-tech approaches. The computer however provides unlimited creativity in using numerous graphical formats, animation, photos, video, and text. Be selective and continually ask if this is the best way to support your spoken words.
Third, it is simple – because the best visual aids are simple.
Fourth, it can be clearly seen. Now you may think it is obvious that a visual aid must be seen in order to be effective, but how many times have you seen a presenter display a computer-generated slide and say, "I know you can't read this, but let me tell you what it says."
To create "simple and easily visible" computer-generated visual aids, here are some suggestions:
* For text slides, limit the number of words per line to 5 and the number of lines per slide to 5.
* Try to limit the numbers of bars and lines in graphs, preferably to no more than 5.
* Use only sans serif types styles such as Arial, Helvetica and Tahoma - they project more clearly that serif styles.
* Use the largest type sizes possible and try to avoid text that is less than 24 point.
* For computer projection, stick to dark backgrounds with light text to increase visibility.
* Limit the use of color - use color to direct attention to areas of a slide that are important.
* Use computer builds to maintain focus on points as you present, but be selective in using this tool.
* Be consistent in using slide transition animations; varying the transitions from slide to slide can be distracting.
Computer-generated enhancements are the most valuable presentation props yet to be invented, but speakers need to recognize them as merely a tool. There is no substitute for solid content delivered with passion and enthusiasm. By applying the ideas presented in this article, you are sure to maximize your use of technology and achieve success with all of your presentations.
About the Author - Barry Mitsch of The Pyramid Resource Group
Over the past 15 years, Barry Mitsch has helped over 1,000 professionals with their presentation styles and content development. His diverse background as a scientist, project manager, trainer, video producer, and business owner helps him relate personally to almost any scenario where presentations are needed. Barry has created presentations for large and small group meetings, videoconferencing, and other distance learning applications for GlaxoSmithKline, Nortel Networks, Analytical Sciences, Mitsubishi, Alcatel, and many others. He is the Vice President of The Pyramid Resource Group, a Cary-based corporate coaching and consulting company that he co-founded in 1994 with his wife, DJ Mitsch.