By Robert Lilley, Education Consultant and ISP North East England Network Chair
I write this having just sat through yet another ’death by Powerpoint’ experience where the presenter simply read through the numerous bullets on their overloaded slides.
We give presentations to impart information, possibly to convert someone to our way of thinking or, as an independent school leader, to instil parent confidence and thus maintain our pupil recruitment. If our presentations are boring or the viewer tunes out, we have failed.
One key hint is to move away from those bullet-laden slides to high quality visual images. Visual communication is proven to stick in the memory far more effectively. An image can create an instant emotional connection and if you can link your message to the viewer’s emotional centres then you are already on your way to success. Communications expert and author of ‘Presentation Zen’, Garr Reynolds, suggests 7 other ways to improve our slides and presentations:
1. Use multimedia wisely – don’t overwhelm your audience with too much information, animation and pictures. Cutting the superfluous is one of the hardest things to do because when we are close to the topic, as most presenters are, it *all* seems important. It may be true that it's all important, but when you have only ten minutes or an hour, you have to make hard choices of inclusion and exclusion. This is something professional storytellers know very well. What is included must be included for a good reason.
2. Use short stories – stories are easy to remember and the best presenters often use personal stories to illustrate their points. Storytellers—filmmakers, novelists, etc. — know that it is emotion which impacts people most profoundly. Yes, facts, events, structure are important, but what people remember —and what is more likely to push them to act—is the way the narrative made them feel.
3. Respect your audience – Move away from the screen and get them involved & engaged rather than just being passive observers. We are a storytelling animal. We are not a bullet-point memorising machine. We are wired to be attracted to a story and to learn from them and to spread them. As Andrew Stanton of Pixar says, "The best stories infuse wonder.” Everything depends on the context of the presentation, but in most cases a good presentation is a mix of logic, data, emotion, and inspiration.
4. One idea per slide – that’s it. Simple, clear and effective.
Don’t let your message and your ability to tell a story get derailed by slides that are unnecessarily complicated, busy, or full of what Edward Tufte calls “chart junk.” Nothing in your slide should be superfluous, ever.
5. Take it slowly – give them chance to absorb what you are saying.
Make your point and give something for them to think about You could, for example, pose questions or open up holes in people’s knowledge and then fill those holes. Make the audience aware that they have a gap in their knowledge and then fill that gap with the answers to the puzzle (or guide them to the answers). Take people on a journey of discovery. And this journey is filled with bits of the unexpected. This is what keeps the journey moving forward.
6. Talk ‘to’ the audience – Don’t turn your back on them.
Make good eye contact and look at individuals rather than scanning the group. Looking directly at individuals is a superb device to make your audience feel like you are talking to them directly. Since you are using a computer, you never need to look at the screen behind you — just glance down at the computer screen briefly. One sure way to lose an audience is to turn your back on them. And while you’re maintaining great eye contact, don’t forget to smile as well. Unless your topic is very grim, a smile can be a very powerful thing.
7. Keep it short.
Humans have short attention spans when it comes to passively sitting and listening to a speaker. Audience attention is greatest at the opening and then again when you say something like “In conclusion…” This is just the human condition, especially so for the busy (often tired) knowledge worker of today. So, if you have 30 minutes for your talk, finish in 25 minutes. It is better to have the audience wanting more (of you) than to feel that they have had more than enough. Professional entertainers know this very well.
Remember, we will not impact everyone in even our greatest presentations. But if we can get enough people talking about the content in the hours or days after our talk, that is success. Maybe we have lit a spark or motivated someone just a little to explore our message more deeply in future. That is what change is built upon, and that will have made the preparation and delivery of the presentation worthwhile.
Robert Lilley is an experienced Head, inspector and school governor.
This article is taken from Autumn 2019 issue of innovatED magazine. You can read the electronic version or download the App FREE of Charge. Staffroom print subscriptions are also available. Click this link to find out more.