Better Presentations from better hygiene

I think we’re all agreed that presentations are intended to do something, right? Better presentations make that outcome more likely – don’t they? We don’t stand up and present (or sit !) just for entertainment’s sake. So why do we spend so much of our time faffing about with our presentations instead of getting the basics right to make sure good things happen for us and our audiences?

Let me introduce as simply concept – better hygiene gives you better presentations…

Simple hygiene in presentations

It’s not a revolutionary concept for making better presentations, is it – get the basics right! But by thinking of them as ‘necessary but not sufficient’ means we’re more likely to pay attention to them.

My experience, as I say in the video, is that presentation hygiene is easily tackled over time by creating a checklist of things to cover before you start your presentation. Just jot down things in a file somewhere and constantly add to it as you find more and more things that will sink your presentation if they’re missing or messed up. A reflective practice of “what can I change to make better presentations?” is a great way to look at this – you might even split your question into hygiene stuff and ways to get a better presentation by upping your Performance – but ask the two questions separately and have two lists.

We call our lists “ties and flies” as an in-house joke, as the last thing to get checked before starting a presentation is if my tie is straight etc. You might have more grown up humour – it wouldn’t be the first time.

So what sort of things typically go into the Hygiene list?

Well for a start there are the obvious presentation logistics stuff – the laptop where your presentation’s slides live… and online access to their backups etc. The other things that tend to count towards “better presentation hygiene” are your content and your presentation’s structure. Yes, I know I’m crudely simplifying here but stay with me for a moment and think about it. There’s no point in the sexiest, flashiest delivery in the world if your content misses the mark for your audience or the structure of your presentation is so convoluted no one can follow it.

the presentation trinity

Like all (most?) issues in presentation hygiene the solution is pretty simple – start with the basics. Build your presentation in this order: for any presentation ask yourself what you want the audience to do/think/feel by the end and with that in mind look at:

  • content – what do your audience need to know in order to get where you want them to go?
  • structure – how can you make the journey easier for them so that they can’t get lost. Think of your presentation as a journey for your audience between where they are and your desired end point. Your structure is the map – better map’s make for better presentations
  • delivery – how can you get them engaged so that they take the content on board. Bad delivery can ruin a presentation, no matter how good the first two points are, but great delivery can’t save irrelevant unstructured tosh.

I’m not pretending that it’s as simple or clear-cut as I’ve just pretended it is, but that’s a starting point.

Why do we concentrate on our presentation’s performance factors?

Honestly I’m not sure. My hunch is that Performance Factors are the sexy bits that people see when they notice that better presentations actually exist!

When I look back at my recent TEDx the performance stuff took me only about two hours to sort out (it might show!) but sorting out the initial content took many, many hours and I can’t begin to count how long I took trying out different orders for the content and different ways to signpost that I was moving from one section to another etc. Better presentations can be a matter of trial and error (in rehearsal!).

A bigger question than ‘why’ might be how damaging is it to do that, and what can we do about it?

The latter is obvious – force yourself by using some system or other (I recommend this one, obviously!) to get your content and structure right before moving on to look at the sexy stuff about presenting.

The former question is equally easy to answer… brutally damaging to the impact of your presentation.

By concentrating on your Performance Factors you might get a bigger response in the room, but your Hygiene factors are what influences how useful your presentation was after your audience leaves the room.

I guess it all boils down to what you mean by a “better presentation”. This blog explores the difference between making an impact in the room, which which case your presentation’s Performance Factors might be all you need, and your longer term impact. In which case the way you measure if you’ve made a better presentation than before is to look at outcomes after your audience has left the room.

Can you give me an example of better presentations when Performance Factors alone mattered, Simon?

As it happens, yes… almost!

A while ago I was asked to close Andrew & Pete’s first Atomic-X conference. As it was just before Christmas, and followed immediately by a Christmas party, part of my brief was to finish the conference with a metaphorical bang. That meant that while my presentation had to have great content and be well structured (because of my professional pride and so on, as a presenter) and helpful (‘cos I’m a decent human being) it also had to look good.

Finishing the presentation playing a cajon
Finishing the presentation playing a cajon

The result was a 30 minute presentation, the last five+ minutes of which were just me playing the drums on stage to get a standing ovation and hype people up! That was pure, unadulterated performance. Did it make the presentation better? Only in the sense that it did what I’d been asked to do by the organisers, not necessarily from the audience’s point of view.

Oh, but it did get me a few free drinks at the bar for the Christmas party afterwards, so I guess that makes it one of my better presentations! 😉

Using hygiene vs performance for better presentations in being more liked and authoritative

By the way… I use this same example (a car, hygiene & performance factors) to make better presentations by addressing the way you deliver your presentations too…

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