Don't let Templates Ruin Your Presentations!
The three most common reasons clients ask us to provide individual and/or group training are:
- Speakers' public speaking fears
- Presentation structure and content isn't compelling
- A combination of these two issues – leading the speaker to conclude he/she isn't connecting with the audience.
All three are solved using our ADAP (Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations) approach to Presentation Excellence. Almost everyone is nervous about presenting in front of audiences. It becomes a problem when the speaker focuses on his/her own reactions, rather than focus on the audience's receptivity and reactions. When people focus on meeting the audience's needs, they reduce self-consciousness and the resulting anxiety, and channel the energy into connecting with the audience.
Presentations aren't compelling for several possible reasons. First, the message might not be sound, as it lacks logical, emotional and power arguments. Second, and in our experience more common, the presenter is asked to use a template which is counterproductive: its design makes it impossible for the audience to clearly grasp the arguments and actually detracts from the speaker's goal of building to a climax that inspires the audience to take action.
For instance, in a recent client presentation, the template called for presenting four pieces of information per slide. Graphically, it was difficult to quickly grasp what were the first, second, third, and fourth points that the speaker was trying to make and made it virtually impossible for the audience reach a clear conclusion, much less one that was compelling. Why put them all on the same slide? Because that's what the template called for! Why? Probably because in the old days when people paid separately for each slide, companies could save money by putting several points on one 35mm slide, rather than put each one on a separate slide and allow the speaker to build a compelling case built on four key pieces of evidence. Ironically, today it's actually less time consuming to leave each point on a separate PowerPoint "slide" – and it's more compelling to follow a clear path – slide 1, 2, 3 and 4 in order to build to a crescendo.
Other examples of confining templates include those that “require” too many text bullets or graphic charts per slide and allow repeating of the same title on different slides. (Each image should have its own unique message and unique title.)
This leads to the third problem – the feeling that the speaker isn't connecting with the audience. The speaker wants to communicate a powerful message that he/she feels is authentic. Presenting a message in a form that the speaker feels robs it of its impact, makes the speaker feel uncomfortable and “withdraw” psychologically as he/she feels “this isn't the way I want to present the information”. We want to be authentic, present a message we believe in passionately; if not, we protect ourselves, by withdrawing our energy and passion. This leads to a weaker connection with the audience.
People who make require the use of templates do so because they believe that standardized, consistent presentations will lead to better delivery. In other words the focus is on the speaker – and not the audience. It's not the template that's the problem per see, but the rigidity in the design and structure. If a presenter feels that it constraints his/her ability to powerfully present and connect with the audience, then requiring it backfires all too often. The presenter does as requested: deliver the message; but he/she can't authentically connect with an audience using a message they don't really own.
Suggestion: rather than require people to use templates, simple recommend them when they are useful and let presenters override templates which limit their ability to be audience-driven and authentic. Presenting a compelling message, powerfully and authentically is much more likely to lead to presentation success. Let the results rule!
Audience-Driven Means Be Flexible
Public companies often present their investor presentations at conferences in hotels. Usually they are given 30 minute slots, with 25 minutes to present and 5 minutes for Q&A. Often, something goes wrong with the conference schedule (e.g., a fire-drill) and the time for some presentations is shortened to 10 minutes, total. Some presenters respond by rushing through the 25 minute presentation in the allotted time. A bad solution: the audience doesn’t “get it” and the presenter is so focused on speed he/she rarely connects with the audience. A better approach is to have a second, shorter version of the presentation, using the same set of slides. This way, the audience can absorb the information in the properly timed presentation, and the presenter can connect with the audience.
Sometimes, respect for an audience overrides any delivery. The reactions by politicians, movie studios, etc. to the horrible shootings in Aurora CO last month demonstrate the importance of being sensitive to the audience’s needs. Presidential contenders immediately responded with sympathetic comments, and cancelled their campaign ads for a few days. The studios delayed publishing the number of tickets purchased to Batman and other shows during the weekend. These two examples demonstrate the importance of being audience-driven: alter the message, including cancelling it, out of respect for unexpected events impact on the ability of an audience to absorb a message.