Why I don’t make my presentations as good as they could be

Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room first. Sometimes I don’t do anything as well as I could because I’m lazy. That includes making presentations.

There, I’ve said it. I like to pretend to myself I’m not actually lazy, just “efficient” – but that’s in much the same way as a friend of mine convinces herself she’s not actually over-weight… she’s just under-tall. Honest

But let’s set that aside and talk about the good reason for not making presentations as good as they could be…

To be brutal, it’s because a presentation isn’t an end in itself. No one makes presentations for the sake of it (except the kind of egotist you don’t want to allow to make presentations in the first place!). Your presentations are supposed to do something, to change something. Given that, the presentation itself becomes something you use, rather than something you create for the sake of it.  Sure, some of my presentations are beautiful and look like works of art, but for lots of people that’s very much a ‘nice to have’. The necessary things for your presentation are:

  1. a clear idea of what the presentation is supposed to achieve
  2. a clear presentation to do that
  3. a clear way to know when you’ve made the change you aimed for.

When you’ve got to that point, you stop. If you’re running a 400 M race you don’t keep running for 800 M. Your aim is to get to the finish line, four hundred metres away, faster than anyone else. It’s a very clear and simple set of objectives and a clear way to measure it. So when you get to the finish line (hopefully before the opposition), you stop. Running further is self-evidently a waste of energy.

Let’s take this idea and run with it (No pun intended, sorry) and see what happens in presentations of ascending order of how much effort is required.

Presentation scenario one

You need to brief people about the Bridges Project in a routine update. Looking at it, the answers to your three questions above might be something like… the idea that you need to be seen to have made progress and the way you know you’ve achieved that is when either everyone around the table is happy, or that they’ve asked questions and you’ve answered them appropriately. In that case your “presentation” might be nothing more than a simple half-side of A4 paper listing progress in bullet point form, perhaps with a couple of sentences about them if there’s something significant people need to know (such as why you went 5% over budget on that bit, or why you finished two weeks ahead of timetable).

You simply circulate the sheet of paper in advance and ask for questions. That’s it, you’re done.  No motivational stories and not even an inspirational picture in sight!  It’s hardly a work of art but it’s an effective presentation.

Presentation scenario two

You’re addressing the middle management of your organisation and you have to brief them about the new regulations for Child Protection. For this, your answers to the three questions might be that… your audience adopt the new practices (or more realistically that 80% of them do, leaving you free to approach the other 20% individually). Your presentation therefore needs to contain both the motivational content to spur your middle managers into changing their behaviour, and the technical information for them to be able to do so. (Alas, most presentations simply contain the latter, assume the former, and therefore fail.)  For this presentation you’re probably going to need some case studies, as stories inspire action, and a handout that takes people through the necessary changes step-by-step.

It’s probably worth quite a bit of effort, because if you don’t hit your 80% target, your presentation was little more than an expensive waste of time and your RoI wasn’t enough. (Hey, you measure RoI on your other investments, don’t you…?)

Presentation scenario three

You’re presenting to professional speakers who might be in a position to refer you to other clients and so help you make a living ?   Well yes… for this one your presentation does need to be a work of art !

Munch's The Scream
How I feel when I make presentations! 😉

(By the way, for presentation scenario four, where that gig went so well you get asked to open the next national conference, you can bet the presentation will look like the presentation equivalent of the Mona Lisa!  (Even if what’s going on inside my head is more like Edvard Munch’s The Scream… ) )

What I’m not saying about presentations

Don’t rush off thinking I’m giving you permission to created ugly, bullet-point ridden slides. I’m not. I’m saying you don’t need to make works of art. There’s a certain threshold of quality that a presentation needs to hit if it’s to achieve its targets. What I am saying is that if you treat your presentations the same way as you treat, say, your reports, you’ll find a lot of good things happen, not least is that a lot of the pointless nerves you get when you make a presentation at work go away.

Oh, and your presentations start to change things other than your blood pressure.


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