Since 2000, I’ve done well over three-hundred presentaions. Between teaching wilderness and remote area medicine, coaching CrossFit and training athletes, and heavily in business for both sales, strategy, and operations. I’m no expert however, and I think I’ve learned more being victim to way too many PowerPoints where the presenter comes unprepared even to read the bullet points on the screen. I think we’ve all been there - sitting in a room reading slides faster than the speaker can talk, waiting for the presenter to turn around and finish so we can move on with our day.
In business, and life in generaly, effective communication enables us to achieve our mission faster. In every project or mission I’ve been part of, communication and lack of shared understanding are among the top reasons for failure. It is the critical job of the presenter then to create mutual understanding in a way that addresses real problems, provides the right data appropriately analyzed, and uses the right information to effectively get the job done. Perhaps more importantly is what the presenter leaves out in order to effective deliver the information that the audience really needs to know.
Effective communication and shared stakeholder understanding allows us to achieve great things. We do this by intentionally communicating with each other and our stakeholders in ways that provide education, common understanding and clearly stated challenges for the purpose or furthering knowledge or leveraging the vast intellectual power of the team or audience. As a presenter and communicator, the way in which presentations are designed, formatted, delivered and written is the difference between success and failure. Therefore, you must consider the end goals and deliver the information in a way that is relevant. This requires a lot of thinking, creativity, and editing work. In the words of Edward Tufte, “Design should be based on the fundamental analytical task at hand.”
I compiled some notes about the key principles for the presentation of information based on courses, books, and experience. Most notably, Edward Tufte’s One Day Course which I highly recommend. Whether it is a sales presentation, teaching a lesson, or addressing project challenges or team problem solving, these principles are the same.
The following can be used as a guideline or checklist for the design of a presentation.
Whether writingWords, graphs and formatting should be such that nothing can be erased without erasing information. Words should not be contained in boxes as it draws undue attention to form over information. Everything you write should contain reasons to believe you, the more generic the information is, the less plausible your argument. Any statement made should be backed up by some source, not necessarily notated, but available should the reader ask. Cherry-pickers, people who use sources only to support what they are saying, while hiding information, loose credibility very very fast. Detail helps credibility.
If your graphic looks like a refugee from a corporate annual report, start over. Powerpoint graphs and charts. Boxes, lines and other formating should make only the smallest effective difference in a modest, minimal with the least possible contrast.
Tables should always be put in substantive order, based off the needs of the user looking at the information. Never put information in alphabetical order unless it is a phone book, where the user is best served by that format. The most effective typeface for tables is Gill Sans or Trebuchet.
Powerpoint, although I usually use Google Docs or Mac’s Keynote, should only be used to communicate graphics, not text or bullet points. Text may be used as a graphic in order to lead the audience, but should not be the focus of the presentation. The presenter should NEVER have to look at the screen as a cue on what to talk about.
Find good models and emulate them. In the words of T.S. Elliot, “Talent imitates, genius steals.” Look for great presentations and mimic them and incorporate the great elements into your own method. Some great examples can be found among Apple’s Keynote Presentations at MacWorld which is available online. The website www.ted.com/talks also contains great presentations by business, non-profit, social and government leaders.
10 slides / 20 minutes / 30 pt font. A complete link to the article is blow in the “Resources” section.
I live in Seattle, WA and run Agema. This is my personal blog about everything else.