Audience, GPS, Monkey – Three powerpoint presentation tips

I have written many prior posts on presentation skills and how not to use Powerpoint. I was recently asked to guest blog on Chris Brogan’s website. I decided to do this via a 6 min video.

BTW, Chris Brogan is the most social media savvy and super-friendly person I have ever met. If you are interested in social media or just in general how to share your information, you should be reading his blog.

Taming the Powerpoint Monster

Powerpoint is killing presentations. Speakers are happy – because they put everything they want to say on their slides and they are assured that they will never forget anything or make a fool of themselves. Alas, the audience is being tortured.

I have been a big proponent of using Powerpoint the right way or not using it at all in doing presentations. So it is very refreshing to see Seth Godin blogging on Nine steps to Powerpoint Magic that echoes the very things I believe in when it comes to using Powerpoint.

Enjoy reading it, he says it so well.

Here are links to two of my previous posts on this subject:

Product Managers: What’s in it for the audience?

Do slides for webinars need to be different?

Do slides for webinars need to be different?

Recently, I attended a webinar. The slides were full of text and the presenter read word by word – you very well know what I said – Text on a Powerpoint slide is your greatest competition. When I gave feedback about this to the presenter via email, the response from him indicated to me that he decided to put all the text on his slides because it was a webinar.

So this brings up the interesting question – do slides need to be different for a webinar than those used for live presentations? No, absolutely not in my opinion. To me a webinar is no different than a live presentation at a conference where there is an overflow room. Imagine that you are giving a talk at a conference that has drawn a large audience that will not fit in the original room reserved for your talk. So the organizers open up another room where the audience can hear you, can see your slides on a projection screen, but cannot see you. Would you change your presentation style and your slides because you cannot see the people in the overflow conference room? No. Webinars should be treated the same way.

In fact, I will argue that webinars require even more presentation skills because you want the audience to listen to you while they have a lot of distraction compared to when you are presenting live. So if all you are going to do is put text and then read off the slide, they will read the slides ahead of you as you flip them and not pay any attention to your message.

While I am on this topic – here is another common mistake I have seen many presenters make including this webinar presenter. I signed up for the webinar to get knowledge about a topic that was interesting to me. The presenter started with introduction about who he is, what his company does and what products they make – this is not what I wanted to hear right off the bat. I wanted to hear about the topic that I signed up for. Tell me that first, satiate my hunger for it and then give me the pitch about you, your company and your products. Towards the end, you have gained more permission from the attendees to tell them about you and they are more apt to listen because you educated them first. It is all about the audience, folks. Don’t put the cart before the horse!

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Software Product Managers – “What is in it for the audience”?

My presentation at BPMA was well received last night. I asked the audience to walk away remembering three things from my presentation. Here they are:

1) You are the presentation: The audience has showed up to listen to you. You have the message and hence you are the presentation. If the audience can figure out your message by looking at the slides, you as well email them the slides and cancel your presentation. You could save yourselves and your audience a whole lot of time and torture.

Before you do anything, figure out your message – what three things do you want your audience to remember (just like I am doing here) to take the action you want them to take.

Once you have your message, ask yourself – will use of slides help me convey my message better? There is nothing that says every presentation has to use PowerPoint. PowerPoint is just a tool and it is up to you to determine whether you need it.

So next time someone tells you – “I cannot attend your presentation, can you send it to me” – tell them No. Tell them you can send them your slides, but if they need the presentation, they need You.

There is nothing that says that the slide deck you have to email folks has to be the same as the one you use for your presentation. In fact, I would say they have to be different. The one you send out can be full of text so that they can read it at their leisure and get the message in the absence of your voice.

2) Make powerpoint your GPS and not your competition: Now if you conclude that you do need slides, ensure that the purpose of the slides are to help guide you deliver the message. I think about PowerPoint as my GPS. A GPS system does not do the driving for me not does it take control of my car – its sole purpose is to guide me from point A to point B. When I am driving from my home to my office, I turn it off because I don’t need it – it is actually a distraction. Think about Powerpoint in the same way – if you don’t need it, don’t use it. If you need it, make sure it is only a visual aid. Don’t fill up your slides with text, fancy graphics and text animations, because it will distract the audience and they will read the slides rather than listen to you. Your audience can read faster than you can talk. After all, you are the presentation.

If you absolutely need to put text on a slide, remember – min 28 size font and use the 4×4 principle – maximum 4 bullets per slide, maximum 4 words per bullet.

3) Why does the audience care? – It is all about the audience. You are presenting to them because you want them to take the action in your favor. Find out what the audience wants to hear. Try emailing them before hand to ask them, if you have a blog ask your readers, and if nothing works, ask some of your friends or colleagues. Ask them what they would like to hear if they were going to attend your talk. This is no different from what product managers do to research market needs.

For example, if you are pitching to a VC, what message do you want to deliver to them so that they can take action – have them write you a big check?, find you the right executive talent? guide you in making some decisions?. If you are going in front of your executive management to pitch a new product proposal or a new pricing proposal, do you have the right message to make them approve your proposal?

All of this is common sense – but who was it that said “Common sense is not that common?”

I hope that I have been able to influence the attendees to use less of PowerPoint and talk more because every PowerPoint slide that is deleted will truly make this world a better place.

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Powerpoint turns 20

Powerpoint Well, the big news this week is how the software that is respected, loved, hated all at the same time depending on who you talk to, turned 20 years old. 20 years after Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin rolled out Powerpoint 1.0 for Macs in 1987, Powerpoint remains the most popular presentation software used by everyone from business folks, students and even kids these days.

While Powerpoint is widely blamed for the degradation in presentation skills (read my earlier post on “Presentation skills – do you care about your customers” on how to buck this trend), it is still a very useful tool. I use it very effectively for my presentations (only when needed) and just like any other tool, you cannot blame the tool for its misuse. The way you use it is up to you.

More details on Powerpoint’s ride to a ripe old age can be found in a recent article on the Wall Street Journal.

Presentation skills – do you care about your customer needs?

One of the key tasks that a product manager has to do is evangelize your product to customers, prospects, industry analysts, partners etc. You have to sell the benefits of your product to these audiences. Having just returned from another conference – the Enterprise Search Summit in NYC, I continue to be dismayed as to how bad people’s presentation skills are. The conference was filled with presentations from subject matter experts, but there were only about five effective, persuasive presentations. Rest were powerpoint slides filled with text and these experts were quite happy to read from these slides.

If you want to be effective, you cannot do this. If the industry standard for presentations is so dismal, you have a golden opportunity to create a differentiator for yourselves, your product and your company. Your good presentation will be remembered and talked about. One of the presentators at the conference got an ovation when he said he was not going to use powerpoint – the audience is craving for such presentations, they are indeed tired of powerpoint. Given that your job is to have a pulse on the market needs, take note – the audience is craving for good presentations.

I had written about this topic “What’s in it for the audience?” in my old blog. I am including it below as well.

What’s in it for the audience?

Can you think of a recent presentation that you have attended where Powerpoint has not been used. I don’t know about you, but I have not gone to one. I regularly attend conferences and listen to a lot of “so called” subject experts. There is no doubt that the speakers that I have listened to are very good at what they do. They indeed are experts in their subject matter. But what about their presentation skills. That is another story. In my perspective, presentation skills of even these experts are very low. It continues to amaze me as to how many presenters just read off the slides, have nothing more to say than what is on the slide. So why do people who are very good at what they do, struggle when it comes to presenting? Public speaking after all is not an easy task. I would not be surprised if even the best speakers get nervous speaking in front of a large audience. The fear of “what if I forget what I have to say”, “what if I say the wrong thing” is there in most of us mortals.

To fight this fear, we have found a perfect savior in Powerpoint. It lets us write all of our thoughts into slides and then read them out. We no longer have to remember anything, we no longer have to fear saying the wrong thing or ever having to forget what we want to say. It is all there right on our powerpoint slides. But with this has come a mammoth shift. Presenters no longer fear anything, but it is now the audience who fear having to survive Powerpoint presentations. The problem folks is we have gone from speakers to readers. Speakers, by the very nature of the word, have to think about what they have to speak about. Readers seem to want to read what they have written on the slide. Readers have now conveniently forgotten about the audience – why are there here, why should they listen to us, what is in it for them?

I took presentation training myself and before this, my presentations probably would have stood a chance of making into an “How not to do presentations?” article as well. I would by no means claim to be an expert in presentations, but I have picked up some valuable skills through my training that I would like to share with you.

First of all, think of some great speakers you have listened to. Take radio broadcasters for example. Do they use Powerpoint? What about politicians, do they use Powerpoint when they are on the election trail – they in my opinion get it – they know what the audience wants to hear – OK, they will tell you what you want to hear – but at least they think a whole lot about their audience before they get up to speak. Convince yourselves that Powerpoint is not absolutely needed for a presentation.

Here are some tips that you could use for your next presentation:

  1. What is your message for your audience? What is in it for them? Why would they want to listen to you? If you are presenting at a conference, the audience have likely spend a lot of money and taken time off from work to come to listen to you. You owe it to them to deliver a great presentation. (When I am presenting at a conference, in some cases, I have been able to get a list of registered attendees before hand and through a survey have been able to find out about what they may want to hear. This also helps you to advertise your presentation in a way).
  2. What are the three things you want your audience to walk away with? Just three, any more and they will likely not remember anything. Start from there, then figure out your introduction (not how you are going to introduce yourself, but your message) and then fill in your supporting visual aids.
  3. Start with the assumption that you don’t need Powerpoint at all and see if you can live without it. You have to convince yourself that without Powerpoint slides you will be less effective in delivering your message, before you choose to include them.
  4. Text on a Powerpoint slide is your competition – humans can read text faster than they can listen. So unless you are speaking to non-humans, your audience will naturally read what you have on the slides and not listen to you. Use images instead of text. “After all a picture is worth a thousand words”.
  5. Repeat to yourself “Powerpoint slides are not my presentation, they are my visual aids. I am the presentation”
  6. Practice, practice, practice. No, you cannot wing it. This is not an extempore. You are hear to convince someone with your message. If you want your message to stick, you will need to practice and iterate.
  7. If you are required to write a speaker introduction (like at a conference), write one that leads into your message. The audience is not really interested in knowing all the degrees you have, where you got your degrees from, how many awards and other accolades you have received etc. The audience is there to take away your key messages and not to become experts on your credentials (Don’t get me wrong, credentials help build your credibility, but the intro does not have to be your entire resume).
  8. Evaluate how well you did right after your presentation. In some cases, I have asked the audience right there and then on how well I did. Tell them you are looking for their honest feedback. It is another way of telling them that you care if your presentation helped them.

Getting better at presentations is a gradual process. You have to continuously work on it. I hope you found the above tips helpful, if not I would like to know. Good luck for your next presentation !! Go get them with your message !!