Presenting Ideas, Avoiding The Information Avalanche

Posted on March 11, 2014


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 it’s 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.

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, your 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. 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 no more than three or four bullets per slide and they should be in an easy to read font.  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: Visuals matter.  They help to emphasize your point and transform your presentation into a multilevel message. Try to avoid clipart, 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. Don’t know much about it? Take a look below and check out the quick video.

About Prezi 

  • If you have complex information to deliver, particularly if you are trying to illustrate the relationship of things, Prezi is a great choice.  It has many of the same attributes as PowerPoint, but it’s delivery style means that you have something that feels more like a movie.
  • Prezi also allows you to deliver messages in a non-linear way.  Prezi is like telling a story on a huge canvass. You can zoom in to show details and easily illustrate complexity or you can zoom out so that your audience sees the big picture.
  • A word of warning though, the movements that make Prezi such a fun can actually make some people feel seasick. Getting nauseous during a presentation is definitely a con.
  • While Prezi has some beautiful design formats, they are much more limited than PowerPoint and while PowerPoint comes with a host of tools, using Prezi means that you have to import many of the graphs you’re used to having automatically with PowerPoint.
  • Prezi is a web based product available for free if you don’t mind your presentation being made public. Otherwise, you can buy a desktop version that is more pricey than PowerPoint.

What works for you, how do you present ideas? Have you tried Prezi or are you a fan of PowerPoint?

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