Is it just me or is the standard of presentation actually getting worse? I find it extraordinary that the majority of presentations still fall into the

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mode, alleviated only by the occasional table or chart, or if you are really lucky, by a grainy image grabbed off the web and blown up for the slide.

Considering the body of knowledge that exists out there on the optimal way to get ideas across to audiences, along with the hard scientific data as to those approaches which categorically do not work, it’s more than a little surprising that the proven, effective methods have not been embraced to … well to any extent really.

Moments ago, I had a conversation with an academic who has just returned from a conference. Every speaker – bullet points. Every speaker – ran over time. Every speaker – zero concern for the learning outcome of a peer audience. It would appear that myopia and self-centredness rule in this arena and I find it extraordinary just how entrenched academics are in their ill-advised, ineffective modes of communicating to one another en masse.

And it’s certainly no better in the business world. Conversation with a client last week:


Me: So, this slide, with the 17 elements on it, and more than 80 words in tiny font size – how’s that slide working for you when you present it to a potential customer?
Client: Fine.

Me: Really? Hmm, interesting. Because we now know … for instance … that the human brain starts getting agitated when it is presented with more than four elements on a single slide.
Client: Ah yes, but our clients are very clever people …

Me: (interrupting) Let me guess … very clever people who are capable of really concentrating and following you as you take them through the 17 elements on the slide?
Client: Exactly! I think people are much cleverer than you give them credit for!

Me: Absolutely. However, here’s my point. You are selling your services to these people. And there’s nothing particularly special or different about those services that another company couldn’t provide too. You are the supplicant. Why then, would you expect them to be really paying attention and screwing up their faces with the effort of following you through all 17 elements on this slide? In short, why would you make life anything other than easy for them as you make your presentation?
Client: (after long pause) Well when you put it like that, it just sounds stupid …

Sheesh!

I still see so many presenters using a ratio of 10 parts textual to (maybe!) 1 part visual despite everything we know about how the human brain takes information on board. The other day, I came across a fascinating little nugget when researching the subject of dyslexia, I do hope it’s true. Apparently, language was such a late development in the evolutionary process, that we have a relatively small part of the brain devoted to processing verbal and written input. How small? Well, the numbers are quite staggering – 1 language processing brain cell for every 1.5 billion visual processing brain cells. That’s billion with a “B” … and yet a staggering majority of PowerPoint presentations consist of words, words and more words; which the presenter essentially reads out to the audience.

Throughout my career, as I have been learning more and more about cognitive learning and the multiple intelligences model, I have been making a conscious effort in my presentations (and those we develop for clients) to mix-and-match the various strands. Thus, minimal verbiage up on screen, lots of yummy visuals, sound and music every now and then, moving images occasionally, charts and tables for the Logical/Mathematical folk, the presenter marching up and down a lot, generating as much interaction as possible. This involves a massive amount of work both in preparing materials and in delivering a presentation, but the outcomes speak for themselves – we have been getting tremendous results for clients who have taken these ideas on board.

But the resistance! Oh lordy me, the resistance! Considering we all have at least eight intelligences, I can’t help but occasionally noticing that we’re a very dumb species …

How can we fix this? I firmly believe that it is down to each of us. One presentation at a time. One slide at a time. It’s down to us to spread the word on the better ways that can be employed both in the classroom and in the boardroom. The web is groaning with information on all of this. Have a rummage around here. Then get yourself out onto the wider web and read and digest all the wonderful, free ideas that are out there – you can find links to some of my favourites over on the sidebar.

But be warned. If I ever see:

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in one of your presentations, the Fortify Ninjas will be dispatched and you can expect no mercy …