Seriously sad really. Our speaker had some excellent points to convey but due to silly basic errors, killed his organisation’s messages. I believe there is no excuse for this anymore. Today there is so much information available, so many role models, so much video instruction, so much access to insight, so much training, you really have to wonder how some organisations can do such a poor job.
The impressive thing was our speaker was delivering the talk in English, when that was not his native language. Actually, the level of English fluency was impressive. The speed was good, the pronunciation was fine, the speaking voice was clear. He came with a grand resume, part of the elite of the land, a well educated, senior guy. This was game, set and match to be a triumph of positive messaging and salesmanship. It was a fizzer.
I approached him after it was all over. Being the eternal Aussie optimist from the land of vast horizons, blue skies and wonderful sunshine, I thought our speaker would benefit from a bit of friendly, positive feedback on how he could help his organisation to do better. He wasn’t buying that and asked me for one example. Clearly he believed his talk went down a treat with the crowd, a group by the way, full of long term Japanophiles and boosters for things Japanese. He was in fact preaching to the choir, in audience terms, but his messaging went astray.
I asked for the first slide to be brought back up. A confusing coat of many, many colours, seriously dense with data, totally impervious to easy understanding – a florid mess in other words. They were all like this. Data was simply killing the key messages. When I suggested the slides were perhaps attempting to put too much on the screen at the one time, he said I was looking at the cleaned up version. He had taken the organisation’s standard slide deck and pared it back. "Pared it back?", I thought incredulously. Well it was still ridiculous.
The other issue was the delivery. Our speaker chose to stand in front of the monitor and read to us what was on the screen, while having his back to us for most of the presentation. Fortunately, he was handsome, urbane, charming, international and articulate. He had all the natural advantages to carry the room to his way of thinking. Unfortunately, he failed completely.
What could our erstwhile hero have done? He made the slide deck the centerpiece of the presentation, instead of making his messages the key. We should all carefully cull our ideas and distill the most powerful and important. We should present only one idea per slide, restrict the colour palette to two colours for contrast and try to keep it zen-like simple. If our audience cannot grasp the key point of any slide in two seconds, then it needs more paring back.
Graphs are great visual prompts and the temptation is to use them as unassailable evidence. This usually means trying to pack the graph with as much information as possible, showing long periods of comparison and multiple data points for edification. Instead think of them like screen wallpaper. They form a visual background. We can then go to another slide showing a turning point in isolation or we can have a pop up, with a key number. In this way, we can cut through all the clutter and draw out the critical proof we want our audience to buy. Trying to pack it all on one screen is a formula for persuasion suicide.
We need to learn some very basic logistics about presenting. Despite how the organisers have set up the space, move things around if possible to give yourself the best shot to present as a professional. Try to stand on the audience left of the screen. We read from left to right, so we want them to look at our face first and then read the screen. We want to face our audience and if anyone drops the lights so your screen is easier to see, stop everything and ask for the lights to be brought back up. We need the lights on in order that we can see our audience’s faces. We can then gauge if they are with us or resisting our messages. They can see us and we can use our gestures, facial expressions and body language to back up the words we are saying.
Changing the slides and the delivery would have made the speaker’s messages clearer and more attractive. None of the things I have suggested are difficult. Why then are we still assailed with unprofessional presentations from smart people?