Antidote to garbled presentations – Canadian Government Executive

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Bookshelf with Harvey Schachter
June 3, 2013

Antidote to garbled presentations

The Visual Slide Revolution
Dave Paradi
151 pages, $30.50

Present It So They Get It
Dave Paradi
238 pages, $30.50
Presentations make the world go round, particularly in government. Unfortunately, too many of them are ineffective. Incomprehensible graphics, too much text, and garbled messages.

Dave Paradi, a Mississauga-based presentations consultant, offers an antidote in two books that combine a system for approaching your presentations with a host of practical tips for making your PowerPoint slides more effective.

In his first book published five years ago, The Visual Slide Revolution, he made the case for visual presentations, not just the then-popular bullet point lists. “Why use visuals instead of text? Because research has demonstrated overwhelmingly that visuals are more effective,” he says.

Each book has a different acronym to help you bring the visuals and text together. In that book, it was the KWICK method for creating persuasive visuals:

K is for the key point: Each slide should make one and only one point. And you need to know what that one point is. Often, we aren’t sure, and don’t bother to clarify. The result is a confusing slide, with too much information. If the data you are intending to present on a slide involves two or three points, then divide it into two or three slides. For each, state your point in a sentence that doubles as the headline for that slide.
W is for words that suggest the visual: Once you have written that headline, look at the words and phrases you used to summarize the key point, which in turn will guide you as to what type of visual to pick. If you talk about the trend in some data, for example, it’s a graph. If you wrote about a flow or process, try a diagram.
I is for in context: Now it’s time to create the visual, making sure it is in context for the audience – the audience can relate to it and thus become engaged in your message. It helps when you can compare the elements in the visual to something they are familiar with. He offers guidance for a variety of situations.
C is for crystal clear: Now check that the point is crystal clear – the audience can understand it immediately when they see the slide, rather than have their eyes wander in panic searching for the essence. That can involve callout graphics or text to direct the audience’s attention to the most important part of the visual.
K is for keep focus: Once the slides are prepared, you must put them in a logical order that keeps the audience’s attention on the conclusion you want them to draw.

In his latest book, Present It So They Get It, published earlier this year, he opens by contradicting the prevailing belief that most presentations these days are boring and dull. Instead, he argues the problem is confusion. The audience is attentive, but can’t pierce to the heart of the presentation because the information is presented so poorly. And the fault for that cannot be placed on PowerPoint.

“PowerPoint does not cause a presenter to fail to properly think through their message. PowerPoint does not cause a presenter to present volumes of data hoping that the audience will figure out the message. PowerPoint does not cause a presenter to ramble through their content with no discernible structure,” he states.

Here he shares an approach called RAPIDS, which echoes the steps from his previous book:

Real goal: You need to know the ultimate goal of your presentation. That means understanding not only what you are presenting – a status update say, or an explanation of the communications plan for a new program – but also why you are presenting. To determine your goal, fill in the blank in this sentence: “At the end of the presentation, the audience will ________.” He gives as an example a status update, when the goal may be to assure everyone the situation is under control and the current work should be supported or it may be to ask for agreement to move in a different direction. Those are very different goals and will require very different presentations. Knowing the end point helps frame the presentation.
Audience analysis: The audience is the primary focus of your presentation – or, at least, should be the primary focus of your presentation – and at every step of preparing the PowerPoint deck you need to be asking: How will what I am doing now help the audience understand the message better? That requires finding out as much as you can about the audience. Learn who will be attending, what their knowledge is of the topic and their attitude toward the issue. Consider how credible and trustworthy they view you.
Presentation outline: You need to devise a map of this journey. He suggests determining the main points you will dwell on, and then the key elements of each section. It will probably help if you use sticky notes or recipe cards to prepare your outline. He advises starting the presentation by sharing your conclusion: “Once they know where you are going, it is much easier for the audience to understand how the data you are presenting substantiates the conclusion you have already stated, and they remember the key message better because it was presented first and backed up second.”
Information that is laser focused: Presenters too often include too much information in their presentation, and thus the audience gets confused. “A confused mind never makes a decision,” he declares. So don’t take the audience on side tours that interest you but are not necessary for their comprehension. That will mean excluding details of how the work was done since the audience really doesn’t care. They trust your judgment, and are focused more on the key analytical points supporting the conclusion, not the fine details beyond that. If you have some information you figure the audience might ask about but likely won’t, keep it in a hidden slide that you can display if the matter is broached.
Detailed plan for each slide: Information overload comes when too much information is presented on each slide, so again he stresses the importance of keeping to one main point or idea per slide. Just as newspapers place headlines on the top of stories, place a headline on the top of each slide that summarizes the point. The body of the slide should be a visual that illustrates the point you are making.
Sufficiently prepared to present: You need to rehearse, delivering your presentation out loud beforehand. That may feel awkward when you try it, but it’s the only way to check that the presentation flows properly and catch any confusion that is unintentionally embedded. Prepare handouts and make sure your equipment is working well for the talk.

The last half of the book tackles issues that will arise as you follow his overall map for presentations. He urges you to make sure there is enough contrast in the slides and directs you to the Online Contrast Calculator he has developed to test your proposed colours (www.ColorContrastCalculator.com). In his workshops, when tested on fonts, audiences prefer sentences in Arial and Calibri, both sans-serif families. The font size has to allow easy reading and he offers guidance, depending on the situation, in two downloadable tables on his website (www.PPtFontSizeTable.com).

He distinguishes between titles and headlines for slides. A title is short, usually two to four words, whereas a headline is longer, about six to ten words. A title only tells the audience the topic being discussed while the headline provides more guidance, summarizing the key point in the slide. Keep the headlines conversational, like a newspaper.

If presentations make your world go round, the books may be helpful for you and colleagues who are frequent presenters. Paradi thinks Present It So They Get It is his best book, but there’s still lots of valuable stuff in The Visual Slide Revolution.

About this author

Harvey Schachter

Harvey Schachter

Harvey Schachter is a writer, specializing in management and business issues. He writes three weekly columns for the Globe and Mail and The Leader’s Bookshelf column for Canadian Government Executive, and a regular column and features for Kingston Life magazine. Harvey was editor of the 2004 book Memos to the Prime Minister: What Canada Can Be in the 21st Century. He was the ghostwriter on The Three Pillars of Public Management by Ole Ingstrup and Paul Crookall, and editor of Getting Clients, Keeping Clients by Dan Richards. A McGill commerce graduate, Harvey spent more than 15 years in a variety of positions at The Kingston Whig-Standard, including editor and planning and promotions manager. He won two National Newspaper Awards for his writing and a national Owl Award for a marketing program he created at the newspaper.

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