One of my biggest pet peeves when attending a presentation is that the presenter spends most of the time looking back at the screen and talking to it instead of the audience. The second they do that the entire presentation has lost its focus and the audience has lost interest.
We’ve all been through these types of presentations before so I won’t discuss why you shouldn’t do it. Instead I’ll focus on why it happens and how to get around each issue.
Too Much Content
When you have a lot of text on a slide the natural tendency is to turn and read the slides. Everyone else in the room is doing that so it’s only natural that you, as a presenter, do the same.
If you’ve read any book, blog, tweet, etc on using slides in presentations they’ll all say to reduce the number of words on your slide (or even better don’t use slides). The easiest way to do this is create 2 slide decks. The first will be for handing out (with all your notes). The second should use “visual aids” to help emphasize your current talking point.
You’ll notice immediate impacts by doing this. Instead of everyone focused on reading the slide they’ll be looking at you. As a result you’ll naturally look back at the audience rather than turning around and staring at the screen.
I once had a manager who gave weekly meetings about how we were allocating our time. Some of the charts that were on his slides had so much content that I could barely read it a few meters away. Of course he had to spend the entire time looking at the screen to decipher everything rather than facing the group.
When you put up charts and graphs that are complex the same thing happens as when you put too much content. You’re pulled into facing the screen to decipher what is going on.
To get around it either don’t put up the chart/graph or put up a very simple chart and highlight the key areas. You can easily do this by greying out everything except for the one key element that you’re talking about. Using this simple technique you won’t feel the need to turn around and decipher what is going on in the chart/graph.
Not Enough Preparation
I’ve met some people that are proud when they say “I whipped that presentation up in 30 mins”. I groan when I hear this since I already know how the talk is going to go. These presentations tend to have slides with (you guessed it) too much content and complex data. They use their slides as a guide for them rather then something to help you, the audience.
If you’re going to present to other people the least you can do is practice. By practicing you’ll find that you don’t need to litter your slides with reminders for yourself. If you do need some reminders then use some sticky notes with key words.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that clear and concise presentations are quick and easy to create. They’re the ones that take the longest to create since the presenter has given a lot of thought into the flow and structure of the talk.
How much time should you practice and prepare for? Well, it depends. For internal meetings estimate the total man hours your presentation will cost the company. For example if your talk is 1 hour long and 10 people are going to attend, spend 10 hours on it. Some managers will gawk at that amount since it seems like a lot. The total time spent will be 10 hours (your prep) + 1 hour x 10 audience + 1 hour x 1 presenter = 21 hours. Seems like a lot but look at the results. That’s 21 hours and the result is that 10 people know a lot more about the topic you just discussed. The alternative is that you spend 2 hours (prep) + 1 hour x 10 audience + 1 hour x 1 presenter = 13 hours total. For 13 hours no one gets anything out of it, people get bored, and the company just wasted time and money.
Public talks (conferences, webinars, etc) are slightly different. I tend to spend anywhere between 40 to 60 hours (sometimes even 80 hours) preparing when I give public talks. It may seem like a lot but it really isn’t. If there are over 100 people in the audience then they expect a good, entertaining, and educational talk.
Please remember, talk to me … and not to the screen