An Attendee in Presentation Hell – Death by PowerPoint (July 8, 2011)

Posted: July 8, 2011 by docbabad in Academia, Tips and Tricks
Tags: , , , , , ,

Doc’s Eclectic Views — A doc_Babad EDU-Torial Article for MHReports

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All right Reserved

Introduction

Over the years I have both given and attended a variety of presentations made by colleagues, fellow volunteers, and subject mater experts. Alas, most of the ‘seminars and presentations by any other name, I attended as a profession, volunteer, or just pain working stiff (aka scientist and teacher) were just plain awful. They wasted my time, insulted my intellect, and inflicted pain and suffering on my fragile mind already weak from living in a world of linear {cause effect} logic.  Unfortunately, the later exceed my own then feeble pitches by a factor of at least 100; didn’t someone somewhere say that it was better to give than to receive?

Folks of all ranks, experience and pedigrees gave these poor presentations. I also must admit to have dished out more, at least early in my career, of lousy presentations. Not on purpose — Just plain Ignorance <no video monitor> or a bit later in my career not caring enough to do better … If the shoe fits, you name your excuses, lack of time is always a good excuse.

DISCLOSURE: On the subject of Persuasive (e.g., Effective) presentation, I am an impassioned and outspoken demagogue. My colleagues always think such a compulsion strange – – needing to be treated – so what! Me strange, why? …I’d rather read even a relatively poor, by a non-English speaking author than hear the pitch.

Day glow colors, and wiz-bang media props not withstanding,  I remain convinced after being a 55 year part of tortured audiences, that the presenters, at least 99.0% of them, are their own worst enemy. Images with a punchy message that don’t detract from your presentations are not, hard to find or create.

This article is about you making peace with your audiences so they not only listen to you but also give real attention to the information you share.

It’s strange or perhaps even amazing how effective a person scheduled to make a presentation can be when we sit around, sharing their ideas. The props are usually napkins or a scratch pad and now an iPad/Stylus combo. However, make it a PRESENTATION, they become hills of Lethe, the forgetfulness inducing spirit. Amazing, how awful the same information becomes, when you hand that person a microphone and a projector and even worse turn out the lights. As a minor sidelight, the best presentation by a newbie I mentored, was rehearsed by the speaker and a few of us, friends all, in a swimming pool.

A Definition of Presentations, One Man’s View — What you may ask is a presentation? Usually it is a semi-formal, nominallyorganized and mostly a one-way exchange of information – a sales pitch made by you or a co-worker aimed at convincing others of the wisdom and rightness of your views and expertise.That’s different from either listening to or passively watching a speech, or sitting at a coffee house actively table trading of ideas (brainstorming) with colleagues. You can pursue these subjects – Google search about them. It’s also alas different from how most classrooms work – oh my preference the coffee table or booth in a bar with lots of napkins, beverages optional or perhaps optimal.

 Thank you for listening!

A Presentation is More than a Sum of Its Parts — There are main two aspects to a presentation, whether at a convention, or made internally to your management and co-workers. There’s you, the presenter (salesperson), and there’s the visuals – props you use.  The later serve, hopefully, to catch and maintain audience attention interest on YOU! – You’re the key to a grrreat presentation.

Note that I’ve liberally adapted materials from those who’ve written the books I’ve studies, Garr Reynolds for example. Many of the illustrations, not quite randomly selected, were gleaned from the many fine examples on the Slide Share site; those items that seem to fit the themes/points/rules/guidelines in my article.

For most of us today, our visual tool is a PowerPoint (Microsoft) or Keynote (Apple’s iWork) presentation. However, presenters should use be any combination of hard or soft props of which they remain in control! Watch Steve Job’s at a recent TED presentation or at various product release events. [E.g., the Macworld Conferences and Expo) or the WWDC developer’s conferences.] Bill Gates, just to drop names, is no slouch at presentation based out reach. All of these folks have been TED presenters. Okay, in a less technical vein, but presentation professionals all, there’s Bill Cosby, the late Daniel Schurr, Conan O’Brien, and of course Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen note.

Okay, neither you or I are likely the naturally talented, much polished and practiced ‘orator’ heroes types that are part my FAVS list. I’d actually pay to hear my heroes speak, rather than watch them on HD TV for free. The KISS rule suggests also keeping in short so I’ll pick only of few whose last names start with the letter ‘B’.  [E.g., Jeff Bezos <Amazon.com>, Mark Bittman <NY Times Cooking>, Richard Branson <CEO Virgin Galactic>] who share their views on the great, and at times not so great ideas of the world

Focusing The Sales Pitch

  • Selling Me (e.g., my knowledge, trustworthiness, or capabilities.)
  • Selling My Project (e.g., funding, change in in organizational direction, focus.)
  • Selling Negative Findings (Don’t let them kill the Messenger, put you in control instead.)

In the material that follows I’ll first share my views on creating presentation graphics and tools. It’s the easiest element to deal with and initially avoid likely personal confrontation like you talk to the podium. There’s lots of available guides, books and examples to use to train yourself, a few of which I’ll reference below. Some of this you know and practice already great… skim it as a refresher. However if I left the material out, I’d be cheating by the rest of you and insulting the gods of pedagogy.

The section that follows the one on creating the visuals will be all about the human element in a presentation.  The me and you making the presentation – the part that is associated with the forever-moving target of know thyself and know your audience.

How often in my early days of presenting, did I wish I could leave both a copy of my slides and paper on each seat? Let me count the times. Then with a cup of espresso in my hand, likely laced with a bit of rum, go to the microphone… sit and sip or a while. After 15 minutes, I’d turn down the background music, and ask “ANY QUESTIONS?”

Do you remember the first — second —third time you looked at video of yourself
making a presentation? … For it was a pure YUCK moment!

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VISUAL AIDES and PROPS — The 13 Commandments of PowerPoint/Overhead Slide Preparation

Presentation Graphics Do’s and Don’t – Death by PowerPoint creates a lose-Lose for both you and your audience.

1.  Practical Attributes of Better PowerPoint Presentations [Paraphrased from Garr Reynolds]

  • Presentations must be both verbal & visual.
  • Too much slide information overloads people’s cognitive systems.
  • Can your visuals be understood in 3 seconds? If not, redesign them to support your talk.
  • Both your slide design & delivery must help your audience organize, and integrate information. Thinking well of you never hurts.

2. Include only one concept, point or idea per slide. If you have a complicated slide with lots of different data, it may be better to break it up into 2-3 different slides (assuming no side-by-side comparisons are needed). If necessary split your slides horizontally into before and after columns. However, you must then then cut down the bulleted items from phases to single of double word descriptors. You won’t have time to get nervous, you’ll be busy sharing what only you, you only know.

  • Capture the major point of the presentation on the title of a slide.
  • A slide one PowerPoint page or one overhead (transparency)

3. Use key words, phrases and or concepts rather than whole sentences and paragraphs. The slides serve as a crib card to you as well as an anchor to your audience.  After all, you will, hopefully, briefly be explaining — discussing many of these individual key points in your oral presentation. AVOID exposing your audience, to death by PowerPoint.

4. Words and Space Use — Follow doc_Babad’s 8 x 10 rule (I do try…)

  • Use no more than 8 lines per slide
  • Use no more that 10 words per line
  • There is no free lunch here; a blank line counts as a line!

5. Minimize Theme DistractionsE.g., Useless) space consuming, repeated information that serves only to clutter your graphic with redundancies. What that?

  • The 40+ point presentation title of the talk on each slide
  • Too large ≥ 2 x 2 organizational logos in the lower right hand corner of every slide.

The tile page, with your firms logo highly visible is okay… sort of a requirements, but after that it should get only minimal expose, except for you conclusions or acknowledgements slide. You have one, don’t you?

Notice that most Canned PowerPoint Templates are just plain wrong for creating an effective outreach to your audience. The most important items on a slide must be limited to your main points and sub-points using simple graphics that highlight the individual ideas. Most templates I’ve checked, and initially used, do the opposite, they because the focus, you the afterthought.

  • Most Data Tables, complex graphs and curves,  cluttered photographs with an unreadable legend just plain suck.
  • Do you want the reader to listen and learn from you or read your slides?

Too often, when trying to hurry the design of a presentation, the temptation is to use materials directly excerpted (cut/pasted) from your paper. Such selections are likely to be cluttered, (likely) disconnected, and semi-organized Think about it. Every time I work first from my paper, rather than crating a story board from scratch, I triple the work it take to create an acceptable set of visuals for my presentation.

6.  Font Selection Suggestions

  • Sans Serif fonts are more appropriate and legible than other fonts
  • Comic Sans MS is an example of a “fun” Sans Serif font
  • Arial is a more “serious” Sans Serif font, but appears too compressed for easy reading
  • Times New Roman is an example of a Serif font, easy to read in a book, harder to read on a slide. Occasionally at a larger than line size [e.g., 12 ==> 16 points makes a great highlight, but use it sparingly.

To avoid visual clutter limit your fonts to two (2) typefaces. I get too uncontrolled when I try to use three font families. I like the Helvetica Neue Family, at times coupled with the more ‘airy” Verdana or better yet an item or two accented with a bit of Comic Sans MS.

This is the different from what I do when writing articles, like this one.  There, I add emphasis by switching between Helvetica and Times New Roman and making extensive use of indented sometimes framed space.

7.  Use a Consistent Combination Of Font Sizes And Character Enhancements for organization and emphasis:

  • Character enhancements include bold, italics, and underline
  • Use character enhancements sparingly
  • Avoid the use of italics and underline if possible; they are hard to see so lose their purpose.
  • Text should be large enough to be read from any location in the room
    • 40 point is appropriate for SLIDE titles/main headings
    • 24-36 point is appropriate for sub topics. Nothing Smaller Will Be Visible.
Experiment by projecting your slides before the actual presentation. Better yet print them out on 8.5 x 11 transparencies. Then tape the transparency aka viewgraph, to a window. Get at least six feet away from the window and see if anything on the slide is either legible to eye catching. Ask yourself, right after lunch, could you stay awake, attentive, interested if these were flashed in front to you?

8. Other Style Suggestions

  • Use all UPPERCASE for acronyms only. If you explain them, they need not be spelled out!
  • The first letter of a header or phrase should be capitalized.
  • Use bullets to list items. It is acceptable to use alternate symbols in place of the traditional dot variant for a bullet, but don’t get cutsey or change the bullets at random.

9. Maintain Consistent Backgrounds For All Slides

  • Eliminate razzle-dazzle effects and unless your audience are rockers and punkers.
  • No clashing backgrounds or distracting colors between slides, background means exactly that – they’re unobtrusive. They also can serve to effectively frame a slides content.
  • Bad background colors make the words hard to reading distracting the audience away from YOU.
  • Photos make lousy backgrounds, the text which overlays them is both hard to read, and the effort of reading them irritates the listener.

10. Bar graphs, pie charts but NOT line graphs are effective tools to show trends and statistics.

  • Use contrasting, bright colors to delineate between categories.
  • Keep graphs simple and use more of them to make your point.
    – I’ve occasionally used a slide show element, for segwaying evolving data;
    – Namely 2-3 evolving graphs, all formatted identically. Typically, I make a simple introduction before using a related compare sequence. …So things went to hell, having first identified the parameters of interest when addressing the first chart.  
  • Actual data collection based curves are seldom legible, and add too much audience distractions as they squint at your figure.

11. Choose a color combination that is pleasing  to the eye as well as fostering the legible.

  • Use a color for the wording that has a very high contrast to the background
  • I use a white or very light pastel backgrounds with dark lettering rather than dark with light lettering. I prefer dark letters, because I find white print hard to read.
  • Use no more than four (4) colors max, preferably three. If you need more to make the point, redesign the slide!

12. Use high-quality graphics including photographs.  — You can take your own high-quality photographs with your digital camera, purchase professional stock photography, or use the plethora of high-quality images available on line (be cautious of copyright issues, however). Use such graphics and photographs only when emphasizing or illustrating a point.

13. I do not use either Audio Clips and Video clips. They may work for Steve Jobs or other widgeteers, but for me, they only distract from my pitch and chew up time!

Additional Slide Related Transitional Thoughts

  • Visual aids should support and enhance the presentation; they should not replace it or repeat it. The most disastrous visual aids traditionally have been visuals made from typed copy. Although perhaps permissible in a classroom, with handouts, these are useless beyond 20 feet.
  • Keep the lights on. If you are speaking in a meeting room or a classroom, the temptation is to turn the lights off so that the slides look better. But go for a compromise between a bright screen image and ambient room lighting. Turning the lights off, besides inducing sleep, puts all the focus on the screen. The audience should be looking at you more than the screen. Today’s projectors are bright enough to allow you to keep many of the lights on. [Paraphrased from Garr Reynolds].

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The Presenter – It’s all about you and your message

  1. Try To Move Away From The Podium —  Connect with your audience. If at all possible get closer to your audience by moving away from or in front of the podium. Use a remote control to advance you slides. This minimizes your dancing around the stage or having to call out next slide, as we all did in the days of viewgraph transparencies.
  2. Memorizing Your Talk — Memorizing can limit spontaneity and detract from your enthusiasm. However, some speakers memorize their opening and closing remarks to allow them to look directly at their audience with undivided attention. Try to avoid memorizing your entire presentation.
  3. Skip the Pomp and Circumstance — You are not a dinner speaker for Rotary or the American Association of Barstool Professionals. As you present, be respectful toward those you are addressing. Be cautious. I avoid, about using words or phrases such as “obviously” and “as you can clearly see from the figure.” This approach projects a pretentiousness that you don’t want to convey. Don’t be afraid to answer questions, with an I don’t know … leave me your card and I’ll find out for you. But do follow-up or the word will get around.
  4. Body English – Avoid distracting movement and unintentional body language: Be aware of your body’s nervous gestures. Some body language to steer clear of:
    • Checking the microphone con tenuously, if it fail’s you’ll know it – It’s the time for a short break of carry on, pretend your hog calling.
    • Jangling keys or change in your pocket or using a Napoléon pose.
    • Practice using appropriate gestures but only for emphasis. Moving your arms excessively is a sure giveaway – you’re spotlighted as uptight.
    • Watch the introductory ‘poises’ of taken show aspirant, before and often during their performances.
  5. Checkout a TED Presentation or Three [http://www.ted.com/] — Better yet just watch one of Steve Jobs keynote address. Ignore the fancy media effects; just watch him hook you and the rest of their intended audience. Slide share is great for presentation graphics but there’s no audio stream.
  6. Speak Slowly And Clearly enough that people at the back of the room can hear you. My machine-gun New York-ese, actually Bron-nix, although I can do Boston as well but am lousy at Brooklyn.) This is my Achilles heel, which to often I drop into when giving a talk when somewhat unprepared. But don’t speak to your self!
  7. If you have a Quiet Voice, Use a Microphone even in an intimate setting. This is especially true if you are a plenary speaker giving your talk in a large theater. If you’ve not used a microphone enough for comfort, talk to an organizer or secretary, if at work, I’m sure they’ll find you a place to practice.
  8. Start your presentation with a brief outline of your talk. Its helps orient the audience to why information is being given. There’s wisdom on the “tell them thrice” adage.
  9. For Technical Talks, give only:
    • An overview of research undertaken, the reason for doing it,
    • A few examples of tools used and/or chemical/technical pathways involved,
    • The important key results, and
    • Possible implications of your work.
  10. Limit Your Content — You or I, no not even Steve Jobs, can coherently present more that an overview in 20 minutes. The “emphasis should be on significance, rather than detail” The people can always read the paper or you can provide them with more detailed information if needed.
  11. Be Prepared — Go over your talk prior to the conference to determine whether it fits into the time available. If it does not, cut it down — Remember to leave some time for questions.
  12. QA — Check the quality of your slides and overheads well in advance of the conference. If they cannot be seen easily from the back of an average-sized lecture room, do something about it! ASAP. I also do a mike check in the seminar room and use my own laser pointer
  13. DON’T move the laser pointer arrow all over the slide while you are talking. Use the arrow or bright spot to highlight a point or value on a slide and then switch it off. [Resting your arm against the podium avoids the Darth Vader effect.]

Most importantly, starting with PowerPoint of Keynote or even large poster boards, use the KISS approach—“Keep It Simple, Speaker

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After Thoughts  — 13 items (commandments) are too few, but the next prime number 17, were way too many!

Some speakers outline their presentations, and then determine the best way to illustrate their ideas. Others sketch their ideas first, and then build their talk around these. However you proceed, be sure your figures and text support each other.

  • As you write the paper, think just a bit about creating a storyboard for your required presentation. Some folks use a large whiteboard; if you’re lucky it’ll have Xerox capability. I prefer cheap copy paper, which I recycle.
  • It is easy to play with ideas to create good concept slides. I use a text editor to minimize distraction of wanting to format and make pretty.
  • Wait until you have written your paper to have your final figures drafted –
  • Legends on figures and table headings must be self-contained.
  • Think about the presentation of the variables that must be identified. For example, use “Heat Transfer Coefficient, “w/m2” –not “h”; “Flow Rate, m3 /s” –not “f.”
  • You usually use more complex figures for the proceedings than would be appropriate for your presentation. Otherwise the figures will get the attention, illegible or not, not you.

Not only will your figures be consistent, but also you might throw out many too rough to use figures in the process.

Don’t Argue!   EVER — As you receive questions from the audience, always be cordial and courteous. The question may be from a novice. Patience will encourage questions and audience participation. and you’ll look all the better for it.

If you must, punch the person out, after the meeting, preferably in the ally. Your career will be dead anyway, but fewer folks will know about it right away.

Microphone Technique – The best position for the microphone is 6 inches from your mouth. This will keep the static down. I like lapel mikes, on my eclectic hand picked custom Bolo Ties, they work fine and give me room to walk around a bit.

Transitions In Your Presentation — Share the main headings and subheadings in your notes with your audience so you don’t falter. Pauses aide the listener–so if you do falter, just consider it a pause.

Presentation Room Size Considerations — Due to the size of the rooms at the conferences, (100-500 people) and the necessary use of a microphone, your presentation will often appear quite formal. Strive for directness and eye contact that you would use in a smaller setting.

An Extra — Read all about it!!

Although I am in the process of preparing presenters instructions, alas only 2 pages long, for a conference I support, I was delighted by the Techniques for Spoiling Your Own Scientific Talk by Joseph Burnett that I reference below. This is material I cannot use because of my sponsor’s concern over offending their audiences. Since Burnett’s audience were mere graduate students…

Due to copyright limitation I’ll only provide you with the list of John’s 10 commandments. These are a mix of graphics and presenter related goodies, you get to figure out which is which.

   

Notice How The Data Trends Change

It’s Simple, Let Me Walk You Though My Data

  1. Spend a lot of time saying things unrelated to your research.
  2. Don’t waste time on introducing your topic.
  3. Fill your slides with detail.
  4. If possible, represent trends by tables of numbers, rather than graphically.
  5. If you do present material graphically, {e.g., a spectrum) omit from the slide identification of the compound or system represented.
  6. Organize your talk so as to involve many slides as possible
  7. Noting that the rectangular open space on a slide is longer in one dimension than the’ other, arrange your material such that the lone dimension runs from top to bottom.
  8. Create your slides with a few apparently random mistakes that require correction as you discuss them.
  9. Present every detail of your experimental or theoretical results.
  10. If your work involves theoretical principles not frequently discussed, assume that your audience is fully familiar with them and proceed directly with their application to your work

Dr. Burnett closes with… “In summary, to spoil  your talk effectively, you can utilize a number of techniques. Which ones you can use depend on the nature of the work you have done. The general thrust of these techniques is to mystify your audience, to block its efforts to grasp what you have done, and above all to keep it from perceiving the Big Picture. This short article may not provide sufficient guidance on how to spoil your talks. You will however have opportunities to observe practical application of the practices presented in these guidelines, at meetings you attend, at seminars in your department, and the like.”

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References

Slide Share Internet Site — a great place to look at slide presentations, many of which, done by folks like you and I, are great. There are even a section of talks on Persuasive Presentation and Effective Presentation.

The Presentation Zen Books (…and Presentations) by Garr Reynolds. [Disclosure, I reviewed the books for macCompanion]

Don McMillan: Life After Death by PowerPoint, a YouTube Presentation, September 15th 2008.

Techniques for Spoiling Your Own Scientific Talk by Joseph F. Bunnett of the University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064 J. Chem. Educ., 1995, 72 (12). I found, on Google, a copy of his Illustrative PowerPoint  presentation is posted, but the article itself was harder to find.

Presentation Zen: The Sound Of One Room Napping by Garr Reynolds

Death by PowerPoint in Wikipedia, 2011.

PowerPoint Hell: Don’t Let This Happen to Your Next Presentation (An off day for Bill Gates?), March 25, 2009. [Subtitled: In the “so bad it’s good” category, we honor eight PowerPoint slides that will make you say, “Holy $#@%, What were they thinking? Did Bill make these work?]

 

Story Board Related

Multimedia Or Just Plain Storytelling By Jane Stevens for the Knight Digital Media Center, Updated May 17, 2011.

Story Board for Pre-Production Videos – This works fro presentation, I done learned it before I had a care for creating more complex media presentations; it was all about viewgraphs then. Google PowerPoint Storyboards for other views on this process.

Other Highly Praised Mostly Book Based Resources

Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences [Paperback] by Nancy Duarte.

Multimedia Learning [a Paperback] by Richard E. Mayer

The Elements of Graphic Design: Space, Unity, Page Architecture, and Type [Paperback] by Alexander W. White.

Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire [Paperback] by Cliff Atkinson

The Short Road to Great Presentations: How to Reach Any Audience Through Focused Preparation, Inspired Delivery, and Smart Use of Technology [Paperback] by Peter & Cheryl Reimold

Presentations That Get Results: 14 Reasons Yours May Not [Paperback] by Marian K. Woodall

Non-Designer’s Design Book, The (3rd Edition) [Paperback] by Robin Williams. [Disclosure: reviewed by me for macCompanion]

Robin Williams Design Workshop, The Second Edition [Paperback]. [Disclosure: reviewed by me for macCompanion]

The Non-Designer’s Design and Type Books, Deluxe Edition [Paperback] by Robin Williams. [Disclosure: first edition reviewed by me for macCompanion]

The Ten Commandments of Effective Visuals by Deborah Kendell on August 23, 2009 for the Effective Leadership Community Blog.

—————————————

PS:

Remember it’s all about getting, keeping the audience’s attention and making you look credible!

Sidebar

You will have noticed, quickly I hope, that I violate some of the graphics concepts I espouse, in my illustrations. However, splitting hairs, this is an article, not a presentation.

I also didn’t always document from which set of slides I grabbed an example, mia culpa – authors-presenters may you all forgive me; it’s not a copyright violation, just my getting absent minded and being to lazy to recheck four or five dozen files for the samples I extracted.

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