Presentation lessons from my holiday – honestly!

I’ve been away, did you miss me?  Almost certainly not! And that’s fine ‘cos you’ve got a real life – and it’s also almost inevitable! Why? Because as humans we tend very much to just pay attention to what’s important to us. We filter out what we don’t need and only see what we’re looking for at the time.

Take this snap of one of the places I visited on my holiday (yes, the same one that means I’ve not emailed you for a few weeks!)

When you look at it in real life you absolutely don’t notice the dirty great industrial scale building in the middle of it. Even when I pointed it out to my wife it took her a few seconds to notice it. We were looking at the view, so the view is what we see.

And so on to presentations. People see what they’re focussed on. Unless you’re a mind-reader you don’t always notice that, so here is a whooooppingly obvious tip.

Don’t assume people see what you think they see in your presentations

For example, if I’m using that image in a presentation and I want to talk about the building, I’d show the image and then highlight the building. You run a slight risk of patronising people but:

  • if people haven’t seen it they’d be lost unless you show it to them
  • even if they have seen it, that’s not the same as noticing it
  • people who know it’s there now have to do less work to concentrate, giving them more ‘brain space’ to think about your actual point.

In short it’s a win always around.

So how do you highlight something in a presentation?

Honestly, that’s a bit up to you, but I’ve found that it works very well if you make it feel a bit more informal and “improvised”. If it’s slick it feels like a performance and people are more likely to feel patronised – you’ve assumed they’re unobservant. For me, I find it best to either manually draw a crude  circle around it interactively or (more likely!) set it up so that it looks like it’s a hand drawn, improvised highlight.

The line-draw function is handy for this ‘cos it fills in the line in a reasonable impression of a hand drawn line.

I’m often accused of not being subtle… but all too often subtle doesn’t work! It’s not because people are stupid, it’s just that they’re focussed on different things and we all only notice what we’re focussed on.

Does it work the other way around too?

You mean do people in your audience sometimes over-focus? Absolutely!

To make things quicker, here’s a short bit of video to illustrate the point – with more holiday pictures in it! (and yes, I know I look like a mad scientist! 😉 )

What’s the solution for audiences over-focussing in presentations?

I hate the answer ‘it depends’ but that’s the case. My experience is that most people over-focus on those things they’re interested in however, ignoring what’s not immediately and obviously relevant. They don’t/can’t take the necessary step back to see the wood for the trees and notice that the stuff they’re ignoring is potentially the solution to their problem.

The answer then, is for you to take a step back and find some way to ask the question “what is it you need/want?” of your audience. You should concentrate on the bigger issue, not the immediate solution the audience leaps to.Once you’ve got that, you can then respectfully draw their attention to the relevant things – and in those cases, an apparently ‘improvised’ highlighting can be even more powerful!

For example, if your audience immediately leaps onto a better way to do X, that’s great, but if you ask why they want to do X, you might know that Y is a better solution for them.

That happens to me all the time in presentation skills training – someone will ask me how to do something in PowerPoint, for example, but when I ask why they want to do that particular technical thing, it turns out that PowerPoint might not be the best solution.. it’s just the presentation tool that they know about so it’s the one they default to using.

(You could, of course, also include the interactive options I explore in this post – simply by providing your audience with alternatives you draw their attention to the fact they exist.)

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