Have you ever seen a nightclub comedian delay his act by taking an extra minute to adjust the focus and screen width of his projector?
How about the President apologizing during the State of the Union for the clicker on his presentation going backwards, rather than advancing to the next screen?
Without exception (I hope!), the answer is “no” to these scenarios. And yet, workplaces are nearly unanimous users (nay, addicts of) the presentation deck.
Yes, visuals can be powerful, complementary elements to a narrative presentation. A picture can indeed be worth 1,000 words; but too often, we use the words instead of the pictures (e.g., endless lists of bullet-point items) or we use pictures that still require more than their share of words to explain.
The most recent, high-profile example of this latter failure was a military document that got wide circulation, including front-page visibility in the New York Times, with “exhibit 1” of bad slide use being an incomprehensible illustration of “American strategy in Afghanistan.”
It’s easy to “blame” Microsoft for its nearly ubiquitous PowerPoint, but PowerPoint isn’t the enemy. The reality is that good presenting – including the presentation visuals, be they pictures, presentation decks, videos, or other media – is the result of training, preparation, and rehearsal.
An iconic example of this principle is Sir Winston Churchill, who was famous for having invested one hour of composition, rehearsal, preparation, and polishing time for every minute of delivery. Thus, he would spend at least 30 hours for a 30-minute speech.
But, you don’t have to go back in time to see good examples that you can use as models. My good colleague Thom Singer, for example, is a terrific presenter, successfully having built a professional career in speaking and writing. But, Thom will be the first to tell you that he credits many years speaking in the Toastmaster’s organization, as well as hundreds of informal and small group talks, as essential foundations for his early training.
Once you have the presenting part licked, there’s certainly a role for a powerful, visual presentation as a companion to your core narrative content. But, avoid taking the visual piece for granted. Be just as strategic about what you leave out, as what you put in. Some outstanding sources for tips, tricks, and techniques on producing good visuals including the following:
- A New York Times companion blog, dissecting the finer presentation do’s and don’ts lessons from the military feature story
- An excellent distillation of presentation wisdom, pulled from the writers’ personal experience and multiple sources of best practices
- The Zen master of “all things visual” himself, Edward Tufte
- The boy wonder of tech start-ups and perpetually enthusiastic (which we love) Guy Kawasaki, who devised his famous 30/20/10 rule after years of hearing one good pitch for every hundred bad ones he’s presented
Finally, I’m a big fan of using different tools and modalities, both to fit the audience appropriately and (honestly) to keep the presentations fresh for me, as well. So, a few thoughts for you on keeping some “spice in the life” of your preso:
First, you might try a new tool. For example, I’ve recently experimented with a tool called Prezi, which produces a much different result than most of us are used to that is, frankly, fun to watch. Prezi is a cloud-based tool with a free version that I found relatively easy to learn.
You can watch my first Prezi, which is a short narrative promoting the marketing strategy work that I do, to get a feel for the possibilities. (It’ll take you 30 seconds to advance through; be sure to go all the way to the end, so you don’t miss the big finish.) If you decide to try Prezi out yourself, two quick little tips that I learned through my demo:
#1 – use high-resolution art, as it helps with the scale and display quality of the final product, and
#2 – keep in mind that the free version lacks a private option, so you have to pick a topic that you wouldn’t mind sharing with the general public.
Second, in addition to a new tool, you can also try a new style, such as Pecha Kucha. First introduced as a design motif, the presentation adaptation of Pecha Kucha calls for a narrowly defined approach that is heavy on high impact visuals and that facilitates easy-to-grasp, relatively quick explanation.
Third, if you’re using PowerPoint, then try experimenting with some new elements. Obviously, the more that the technique you use matches the style and tone of your presentation content, the better. One that I’ve seen emerging as quite popular recently, not surprisingly given the increasingly 3-D world in which we live, is the 3-D or cube transition. Both Microsoft and third parties offer cube and other 3-D slide transitions, which also come standard in Mac software.