Presenting Ideas, Avoiding The Information Avalanche

It was Friday afternoon and as I sat in the hotel conference room I wondered how long it would be before the speaker finished. I was restless, well restless and sleepy. I was convinced that if I didn’t move soon I’d drift off.  What if I snored? The topic under discussion was the future of health technology. Prior to the start of the lecture, I had been eagerly awaiting the presentation.  Now I eagerly awaited its end. The speaker was a senior executive in a large technology firm and his presentation was billed as providing invaluable insight into what the future held for the health sector.  However, as the speaker continued with his presentation I couldn’t help but focus on the present. I looked again at the slide that was currently being discussed and looked away. It hadn’t changed in a while.  Not surprising really, the densely packed projection was filled with words in 14-point font, they might have been smaller, they certainly felt smaller. He was sharing in one slide what might have been better shared in six or eight.

I looked around the room trying to find something to amuse or distract me and found myself looking into the eyes of other audience members.  They too were looking for entertainment since knowledge was not to be found at the front of the room. In fairness to the speaker, a mid afternoon presentation on a Friday is never the best scenario, but the room was full. Although this was not a plenary session that would have drawn the majority of the conference participants, it had still managed to get the attention of at least 250 conference goers.  At a health conference, his topic was hot stuff. The problem wasn’t what he had to share, it was how he was sharing it. His tone was fine, he seemed to genuinely care about his topic.  He was clearly very knowledgeable but we were being avalanched with information and no one feels safe in an avalanche.

Even if you have information the audience wants and a venue in which to deliver it, you still need to make sure that the information can be understood and digested. Knowledge transfer is never as easy as sending a package of information from one person to the other. The information has to be deciphered, distilled, decorated and delivered with conviction.  If that sounds an awful lot like product marketing then that’s because that is precisely what you are doing, you’re selling ideas.

Decipher: Avoid using jargon that only you and a select few in your industry can understand. It may make you sound like an authority, but it also makes you frustrating to listen to because you are hard to understand. Make sure that you are doing all that you can to make it easy for listeners to follow.

Distill:  While you want to appear knowledgeable, you don’t  have to share everything you know. Simplify your message. The objective isn’t to do a mind dump, but to create knowledge in the recipient, think sound bites.  By not being discerning with information the presenter risks not only not getting their message across but alienating the audience.

Best practice is to have one concept per slide no more than four bullets. The bigger the font, the better for easy reading.  The letters should be no smaller than 18-20 points depending on the font and even that’s on the small side. The header of the slide should be larger than the font in the body and should give the audience an indication of the points you need to make.

Decorate: Add life to ideas by adding images or colourful text.  They help to emphasize your point and transform your presentation into a multilevel message. Avoid clip art, it rarely meets the challenge and can make your information seem inconsequential.

Deliver: Repeat important messages.  Know your audience. Your enthusiasm can make up for a number of weaknesses, but you have to be understood. The audience needs to be clear about why what you are saying might be of interest to them.

Mix things up. Every once in awhile and try a different presentation style. If you’d like to try something a little different from PowerPoint, consider using Prezi,  Adobe’s Spark, Visme or one of the many other awesome presentation tools out there. Or use them to incorporate some fun into your PowerPoint. The ones mentioned here are free and relatively easy to use. 

What works for you, how do you present ideas? Enhanced by Zemanta


0 responses to “Presenting Ideas, Avoiding The Information Avalanche

  • Debra, I think most everyone can identify with the presentation you discussed – I always ended up feeling sorry for the speaker because like you say, they know their stuff and they probably spent a lot of time preparing but fail to deliver and probably realize that too. I hope anyone planning a presentation soon gets the chance to read your post.

    • Thanks Lenie. No one wants to be known as a boring speaker, so it really does come down to not knowing what the best thing to do is. Sometimes I think the challenge is that the audience is so polite that the presenter has no idea they have missed the mark. This is when feedback forms come in handy.

  • If I plan on rejoining the workforce, I think I should learn quite a bit about this Prezi.
    Back in the day, I had to attend many presentations that would send me off to sleep. There really is an art to doing that and a brain dump (as you mentioned) is not it. Simplicity is the key to so many things in life.

    • I think if you think about presentations as a conversation, then you’ll go a long way towards making the exchange an enjoyable one. I also think that there’s something to be said for abandoning a presentation when it simply doesn’t work. I’ve done that a few times and what followed were some amazing exchanges.

  • Debra- I think most people are visual so having to listen to a long drawn out presentation you will lose most of the audience. It is just like reading a post on the internet, most people scan over it, now if your title is catchy or your image is interesting you may read on. I have learned in my business not to use the jargon that only someone in the promotional products industry will understand. You will lose your audience in a heart beat.

    • I think the most dangerous thing you can do as a presenter is assume the audience knows what you know. It’s right around then that jargon shows up, not to mention too much information as you scramble to come up with something “new”.

  • Hi Debra,

    I could easily relate to you and that presentation because I’ve been in such situations many many times. Most presentations especially are boring because of too much text and too much information, numbers, statistics etc.

    Thanks for the tips and the intro about Prezi. I didn’t know about it but just checked it out and it looks cool.


    • Thank you, I’m amazed at how often presenters get carried away with their content. I sometimes wish I could put them in the audience and present their content so they could experience it from the other side, bet it would be an eye opener.

  • Loved this: “No one feels safe in an avalanche.” I was instantly there with you in that room. I will look into Prezi which sounds like a good alternative to Power Point.

  • Hello Debra; You made some good points there. Many of them we have heard before, but it seems these are the kinds of lessons we just need to hear repeatedly. I help people sell amusement equipment. I came from a carnival background so there were a lot of terms I had to unlearn. I also had to learn some new ones that are familiar to people in the amusement industry on an international level. in considering you are a fan of prizzy did you consider seeing if they had an affiliate program so you could have included that link along with the post. Just one of those thoughts I’m having the more I work at this online promotion stuff. Thanks again and tai care, Max

    • Max, once a salesman, always a salesman huh? I like Prezzi, but I also like PowerPoint . I think they are both strong programs so would not promote one over the other. I just think most people know PowerPoint. 🙂

  • Sorry to tell you this but I’m one of the few who get seasick easily. I tried to watch it but had to push the stop button.

    I have found when going to presentations that sometimes the wrong person is pick to give it. Sure, s/he knows her/his stuff but either doesn’t know anything about public speaking or s/he is so full of his/herself that s/he has to show off. Either way makes the whole thing a big bore.

    • Glynis I don’t think it’s that rare to get nauseous or it wouldn’t be a tip. My husband isn’t a big fan either. Zoom is really the kind of thing you have to use with restraint. 🙂

  • I ran into Haiku deck a while back. It is another interesting presentation option. It has been a while since I have had to do a big presentation but I still enjoy playing with the software from time to time.

  • This is the first time I’ve heard of Prezi. I’ve only made one PowerPoint since I left the classroom, and I don’t miss it all that much. Anything that can up audience participation is a plus. Using clickers to get immediate feedback or to take quick polls can be fun.

  • Eleanor Bell says:
    March 11, 2014 @ 09:56 pm

    Never heard of Prezi before. Am curious to check it out.

  • Back in my career days, I had the pleasure of being in the audience with a few…just a few mind you…savvy presenters who knew when to pivot in order to re-gain the audience’s attention. Once size doesn’t necessarily fit all, no matter if it is Power Point or Prezi. Some factors could be age of audience or connection to the material…is it first degree, second degree…? Stand-up comics have been doing this for years 🙂 So your message of “know your audience” really hit home for me! Great post Debra!

    • I love watching excellent presenters, they not only deliver the information, they transport you. You learn without effort. As for comic delivery, it takes so much precision in timing, tone and ability to read the audience that I think we can learn a lot from them.

  • ballnchainz says:
    March 11, 2014 @ 01:26 pm

    This brought me back to the days of working for the government and trying to stay awake while some high ranking soldier tried using words that were too big for him

  • There is nothing worse than a bad presenter, however interesting the material. The last time I went to one, I too was literally almost falling asleep. Your tips to hone in on the important aspects and present them in a way that is accesible to the audience were excellent. Prezi does look fun I have to say. I’m out of the business world now, so I’ve not come across it before

    • A.K. I wish the business world would come across Prezi, we’re still firmly in love with PowerPoint. In fairness, you can make PowerPoint interesting and while people have fallen asleep, I don’t think PowerPoint makes people throw up. 🙂

  • I’ve been there with presentations. If I’m willing to admit it, I’ve probably done some of these when I first started doing presentations… LOL. Oh that poor audience. Your points are all well taken and spot on. These are things any presenter should keep in mind when doing a presentation to any size group. 🙂 Prezi looks like a fun tool. I’ll have to give it a whorl for fun.

  • Good article that I, as you know, agree with and the sae applies to Paul’s comment. A major problem with presentations is that there is a group of people who love to hear their own voice. Once they start it’s difficult to make them stop:-)

  • I relate to this post so much, I feel I could have written it myself, Debra. I’m constantly amazed, year after year, by the number of presenters that fail to put themselves in the shoes of their audience. You’ve given us all some good tips.

    What I couldn’t have written myself, though, is your introduction to Prezi. I’ve never used it, although probably I have seen presentations that used it. I should give Prezi a whirl, because I don’t exactly feel wedded to PowerPoint.:)

    Thanks again for a good post. You always come through for us!

    • Alison I used to think people were being selfish, but the more I coach people the more I realize they are just frightened or worried. They don’t want to look foolish by missing something or simply get themselves worked up about the whole process. In the end they overwhelm themselves and the audience.

      Have fun with Prezi!

  • Debra you have avoided the avalanche and successfully Deciphered, Distilled, Decorated and Delivered ! Whether Power Point or Prezi,I agree that less is more. It is also useful to periodically turn off the media altogether and fully engage the group without it. This seems to improve focus when returning to it for the next segment. Great post as always !

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