One of my clients delighted me the other day when he told me of the pleasure he got from his job. He spent his days doing work he loved in a setting most of us would envy. Then he shocked me. He said he had to tell a group of strangers about his job – and he knew he would bore them.
And when he showed me the deck of 30 text-heavy slides he was due to deliver in a presentation, I had to agree. Feedback from previous groups was that his presentation was dull. My client knew it was dull. But he was unsure how to break out of the accepted format, especially since the slide deck had been handed down by his manager.
We talked about what he wanted to achieve with the presentation. He decided he wanted to:
- inspire the audience (all new to the business) about the value of their jobs
- provide insight for the audience into how what they’d learned in their training programme could help them when they were working
- get them fired up about the idea of being part of something bigger and more important than simply completing their shifts and collecting a pay check.
How much, I asked, would a slide deck packed with facts and figures achieve any of those laudable objectives? Not at all, he admitted. The facts gave a sense of scale, but they were cold and uninspiring.
How often do audiences get subjected to an uninspiring data dump? Too often, is what I hear from people who have to sit through many presentations in the course of their work.
The data dump has been an easy tool for presenters. It’s easy to look informed with lots of facts. It’s easy to hide our feelings behind facts. Data dump presentation are easy to prepare – and easy to forget.
It’s harder to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and figure what they really need from you. To give them insight rather than mere information. To give them perspective, rather than pie charts.
Here are some tips to turn a formulaic presentation into something unforgettable:
- Think about what your audience really needs. Ask yourself ‘why is this information important to this particular audience’. Answering the ‘why’ will lead to relevance and insight.
- Gather your facts, figures, data… then look beyond them for the gems of insight they hold. What do they really mean? Why is that important to this particular audience?
- If you need to talk about facts, wrap them in a story or metaphor so they stick in the audience’s mind.
- Paint a vivid picture of what you’re passionate about. Support it with a photo on your slide rather that bullet points. If you are talking about the costs and dangers of illegal garbage dumping in rural areas, what will engage the audience’s imagination – half a dozen wordy bullet points or an image like this:
- Strip out material that’s not essential. Start slowly. Keep eliminating more and more till you’re giving the audience exactly what they need to know, in a manner that will stick.
- Speak from the heart. If you care about the subject, and show that you care, chances are the audience will care.
- Consider providing a handout for the audience with all the facts and figures to support your argument. That way, they can absorb the data at a pace that works for them, rather than trying to process and absorb the info from slides.
Stepping away from what you’ve always done is daunting. But if you don’t, you’ll always get the same results. If you take a chance, ditch the data dump, and upgrade the slide deck you’ll have the audience eating out of your hand.
Halina St James takes the worry out of presentations with her Present Like a Pro video training course. It’s available now from the Podium Coaching online store, together with her popular TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers e-book and workbook.