The four Ts of top presentations

I’m not a huge fan of “the X secrets to…” for anything. Inevitably the real world is more complicated than the blog post with that kind of title has suggested. Maybe it’s me, but it seems that posts like that always finish with an extra step of “realise you don’t know how to do it because I’ve made it sound complicated and decide to pay me”.

Presenting a definition of cycisism

Cynical? Me?

Just a bit.

For today though I thought I’d swallow my pride and talk about four things that often get overlooked as we design and deliver our presentations – it’s all most a coincidence that they all start with the letter T.

So let’s get on with it – the four Ts of better presentations!

Target – what is your presentation supposed to achieve?

presentation targets - good things!

All too often I’m asked to train people in making a better presentation – or work with them to co-design a better presentation – and this is the first question that flummoxes them. (Great word, flummox!) The thing is though, that unless you know what your presentation’s targets are, there’s no sensible way to design your presentation so that you hit those targets.

Sure, an archer in the dark might hit something, but I can’t help thinking it’s more likely that archer would score better in daylight.

Personally I find it handy if these targets are

  • do-able but challenging (no point in a presentation trying to do the impossible!)
  • quantitative (because it’s easier to know if your presentation hit a target if that target has a number: 45% is a better target than ‘quite a lot of the audience’
  • short term: I know people enjoyed the presentation if I get a spontaneous round of applause
  • medium term: I know I’ve inspired action if, for example, 32 people download a how-to guide
  • long term: I know my presentation was a world-changer if 15 of those people do XYX

Those last three are three different targets by the way! Having several different targets in mind for your presentation isn’t an absolute necessity, of course. You could just have the simple target of “Get off the stage without looking stupid” but I’d like to think we can aspire to more than just surviving our presentations!

On a related note, it’s easier to set appropriate targets if you’re presentation is aimed at the right people in your audience.

Tactics for a better presentation

This is an infinitely long part of the blog, right?  “How do I make better presentations?” gets a little over 184 million hits on Google’s UK version. Clearly the possible answers are legion. And that’s not even the most popular google question about presentation tips!

So where do I start, given the the rest of this website is (literally) given over to giving tactics for a better presentation? 🙂

Here are a few of my current favourites in no order and with no real strategy:

I could go on – just brows the site! 🙂

Tools for presenting

spanners - not the best presentation tool!

There’s no point in designing a presentation that lots of audience questions on the day, for example, if there’s no way to get a microphone out into the audience (or whatever – obviously if your presentation is for five people in a board room use a different thought!). There’s no point in me using some of the cooler tricks in my Keynote if I’m going to have to export it to PowerPoint, which doesn’t support them. (The same is true in reverse, obviously – PowerPoint does a few things that Apple’s slide software, Keynote, can’t import.)

As soon as I say it, it’s pretty obvious, right? So why do so many presentations include slides designed for a 4:3 data projector when it’s being displayed on a 13:9 TV and, as a result, looking foolish. It’s hardly rocket science.

A quick “tools audit” takes only a couple of minutes and perhaps needs an email to the venue but stops your presentation trying to do things the kit can’t. Don’t forget, too, that taking time to find out what’s what, technically, might give you cool ideas.

You want a personal confession of when I screwed this up? Oh, alright, I’ll confess!

I normally use Presenter View on my laptop, to do lots of things, including show me notes, if I’m using any, and to show me the next slide, timer and so on. There’s a venue in Glasgow where I worked a few months ago that doesn’t have wired connections to their (admittedly fantastically big!) screens. Instead they insist on installing software on our computer and broadcasting to the screens by WiFi. There are a number of things to think about here:

  • unless you have your computer set up in a particular way you’d not be able to instal that software!
  • because my laptop ‘knows’ there’s a screen attached be knowing one is plugged in my laptop wouldn’t kick in Presenter View – the WiFi screwed that up
  • the WiFi doesn’t broadcast audio, so my embedded videos were threatened
  • the WiFi has a capacity based on static slides, which means that slide transitions were messed up, and showing videos was a nightmare.

Don’t worry, I got it all sorted out, but it cost me several grey hairs! The point is that if I’d just taken time to find out what Presentation Tools I had available I’d have time for a more relaxed cup of tea before I started presenting!

Time to get your presentations sorted

alarm clocks for timing your presentation during rehearsals

You can’t research, a good presentation in no time. You can’t design one in no time. You can’t test it and make the presentation better without enough time. You can’t rehearse it and you can’t practice it.

How long you need to turn your otherwise blaghggghhhhh presentation into a better presentation depends on a lot of things (such as the targets you’ve set – see above) stuff and your experience/skill levels, but whatever it is, you can’t do it on a time-shoestring. What I can tell you from personal experience however is this:

  • if you know your presentation’s subject matter – really know it – there’s a lot to be said for designing your presentation in short bursts and letting your subconscious work on things between times
  • you shouldn’t try and design your presentation until you know what you’re doing – starting to work on it before you have the ‘big ideas’ for your presentation’s design and its content, you’ll end up (at best) with something mediocre
  • tweaking your presentation once you’ve got something, can take twice as long as you think, even if you allow for twice as long as you think

Filter those pieces of wisdom into your presentation-design-timetable! 🙂 (See here for advice on how to rehearse your presentation much more effectively!)

So where are we?

I’m tempted to add a fifth T – something like “Try to hire me” just to stay in keeping with my experience of most of these lists, but I’ll resist. 🙂 I hope they’re useful. It’s not rocket science – the hardest part is sometimes just remembering to think about things, not the actual thinking.

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