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.