Antidote to garbled presentations - Canadian Government Executive
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 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.

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Bookshelf with Harvey Schachter
 
A few years back, consultants with ghSMART told us the biggest question we face is “who”: Picking staff is our most important decision, even more critical than “what” – the strategy we will employ. These days, in an era in which purpose is prized, “why” can often be the biggest question. But recently, best-selling author...
 
At work, we are often trying to satisfy a bundle of expectations, which can be boiled down to those expectations we place upon ourselves and those placed by others. In government, of course, those outer expectations can be powerful, handed down from the public, the minister, and our immediate boss. But we all react differently,...
 
We learned in grade school that one plus one equals two, but when we are faced with two choices in decision-making – and usually decisions end up framed around two possibilities — our approach might be described as one versus one equals one. We discard the lesser choice and move on with the better one....
 
Did your high school valedictorian go on to achieve greatness? High schools select their valedictorians because they show promise and exemplify the best the school has to offer. So it’s not unreasonable for us to expect them to achieve great things. Many achieve success in their future careers. But greatness tends to be rare. And...
 
Yogi Berra, Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, and Derek Jeter. Five elite athletes who led championship teams. However, there’s a difference between them – a critical difference – that could be important to government executives seeking to be more effective at work. Three of those stars – Berra, Richard, and Russell –...
 
Radical candour sounds rather outré as a prescription for government executives. Careful caution is often the norm. But consultant Kim Scott believes candor is critical for relationships and internal organizational communications. And if that doesn’t convince you, her new book, Radical Candor, still has some terrific ideas to improve your weekly schedule of meetings and...
 
Innovation is prized and praised these days at work, even in government. We are supposed to relish creative change. But what if the reality is that humans instinctively reject such change? Jennifer Mueller, a social psychologist at the University of San Diego who has focused on creativity, is making waves with her claim that our...
 
Leading the Unleadable By Alan Willett Your team probably includes some difficult people. You may not have chosen them – they could have been inherited – but they are your responsibility, even if at times you don’t know what to do. Should you shunt them off onto a project? Chastise them in public? Ignore the...
 
If you want to learn from mistakes in how to handle an interview, you could take a lesson from Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, Edward Kennedy, and Alexander Haig. The three public figures all had celebrated careers. But each also had one moment when they badly flubbed an interview. Jimmy Carter admitted to Playboy he had...
 
As understanding of social behaviour increases through intensified research, many government executives are learning about the art of nudging. Governments are establishing nudge units to encourage the citizenry to adopt desired behaviours and, less formally, ministries are trying other routes than laws and regulations to get results. Related posts: Where you sit is where you stand...
 
We curse meetings, but they are essential to today’s collaborative leadership approach. We may long to eliminate them – and no doubt some could be trimmed – but the bigger issue is to make the ones we have more effective. Richard Lent, a Boston-area consultant who has spent 25 years trying to improve his meetings,...
 
Government is replete with silos. Like the weather, everyone complains about them but nobody does much to change it. And if they try, they often find the silos sturdier than expected. That’s why Gillian Tett’s The Silo Effect is an interesting book for government executives. Primarily about business, it still includes government, which is rare...
 
Words, words, words. Blah, blah, blah. Our days – our work lives – are punctuated by a sea of words. We use words to communicate. We use words to not communicate. We use words to share our ideas, to propel our innovation. Think of a recent meeting and you’ll likely think of blah, blah, blah....
 
Government executives are writers. Maybe not like Margaret Atwood or Joseph Boyden, but they pound out words every day themselves on their keyboard, in emails, memos, and other missives. Unfortunately, a lot of what they write is crap—poorly composed, jammed with jargon, and designed in parts, perhaps large parts, to obfuscate in order to avoid...
 
Gladwell made Anders Ericsson famous—or, at least, his research work. A professor of psychology at Florida State University, Ericsson conducted the study of violinists that the best-selling journalist glamourized in his book Outliers, imprinting on our consciousness that 10,000 hours of practice will make you a master at whatever task you devote such attention to....
 
Every evening, Marshall Goldsmith pays an associate to call and ask a series of questions about his behaviour that day. As a high-profile executive coach, he knows how difficult it is for top leaders to cleanse themselves of destructive behaviours. He makes his clients accountable to the people around them in order to heighten the...
 
Let’s resume last month’s discussion on effective change initiatives with some popcorn. Specifically, an experiment some psychologists dreamed up in which they handed a soft drink and a free bucket of popcorn to everyone arriving at a suburban Chicago movie theatre in 2000 to catch a Mel Gibson flick. It may sound like a good...
 
David Dingwall is familiar to many government executives for his role in the Chrétien government where he held several cabinet posts, from public works to health. He later became a government executive himself, presiding over the Royal Canadian Mint, improving operations to the point the organization secured its first surplus in a number of years....
 
Are you an undermanager? We’ve all been warned not to overmanage – become a hen-pecking, micro-manager, obsessing about details, instead of delegating wisely. But consultant Bruce Tulgan believes the opposite, under-management, is epidemic. Indeed, he insists it’s hiding in plain sight, but we don’t notice. “It is so often what’s going wrong in so many...
 
A leader’s job is to illuminate the path ahead. It’s vital to keep employees engaged and aligned with end goals on every project you undertake. And that challenge might be made easier–illuminated for you–by presentations specialist Nancy Duarte, who developed former U.S. vice-president Al Gore’s powerful climate change slide show, and colleague Patti Sanchez in...
 
Ottawa’s Chris Bailey turned down a number of attractive job offers after university graduation in favour of something even more attractive: Figure out how to be productive. It was a personal Odyssey, as he tested the ideas peddled by productivity gurus to see what worked and what didn’t, and added his own twists. The result...
 
At the height of World War Two, a clever scheme was developed to disrupt the Nazi regime behind enemy lines in occupied territory without being detected. It involved a variety of obvious tactics such as slashing tires and draining fuel tanks but also included some unusual ideas to sabotage internal workplace processes. Those might seem...
 
Leadership BS By Jeffrey Pfeffer Harper Business, 259 pages, $36.99 If you think that much of what you read and hear from leadership gurus is BS, you have a supporter in Jeffrey Pfeffer. At first glance he’s an unlikely backer since he’s a leadership guru himself. But he’s a professor of organizational behaviour at the...
 
If you want to improve your management procedures, search Google. No, don’t put those words in the search engine’s magical white slot. Instead read Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules. The head of Google’s people function shares insights gleaned from the company’s rapid growth and its many experiments with different procedures, to see what works best. Of...
 
Mentoring can be one of the most critical – as well as challenging and rewarding – tasks we undertake in the workplace. Sometimes it’s formal. Sometimes it’s informal. But always, when effective, it’s important. Related posts: How to cultivate a sponsor How Changemakers Get Things Done in Government: Intrapreneurship in Action Intrapreneurship in Action: An interview with Nick Frate...
 
In recent years, it has been customary for government – and government executives – to be looked down upon, while business has been exalted. Somebody who hasn’t succumbed is management guru Henry Mintzberg. Related posts: Prevention-focused people and risk aversion Moving to the Cloud: A strategic approach How to bring about real Cultural Change in the Public Service...
 
Many studies have shown that women are socialized to fit in, not stand out. But fitting in can leave you a follower, forever. To advance at work, you need to be noticed. You need to stand out....
 
In 1994 psychiatrist Edward Hallowell coined the term “attention deficit trait” to describe a common problem he saw emerging in the workplace: The tendency to hop from task to task in a rush, without proper focus on what people were doing or should be doing....
 
Leaders motivate. They nudge and cajole staff into inspired work, wielding monetary incentives when required, at least in the private sector. Without motivation, employees might wither and certainly wouldn’t shine. That’s a basic premise of leadership and managerial thinking. And it’s dead wrong…...
 
When you think of creativity and innovation in government, John Lennon and Paul McCartney probably don’t spring to mind. Neither worked in government and, indeed, they were anti-establishment types who you can imagine sneering at “government bureaucrats.”...
 
You can’t appear for your important presentations in a black turtleneck and jeans like Steve Jobs did. And you don’t have alluring electronic gizmos to talk about. So suggesting you might learn from the presentation approach of the hallowed Apple pitchman might seem ludicrous....
 
We know feedback is good for us. We know it can help us improve. But receiving feedback can often be difficult. We tense up, even get irked or angry. Only part of the message, or perhaps none of it, slips through, as we slide into defensive mode. Related posts: Leader as mentor: The power of experience...
 
Leaders need to know how to inspire and manage, and have a solid understanding of the policy field in which they operate. But that’s not enough....
 
As I rush-rush-rush through the day, I occasionally remember the notion of “cool time” from a book published 12 years ago by Toronto time management consultant Steve Prentice....
 
Before a presentation, uncertainty and fear can lead us to try to include all the information required to answer all the questions recipients might have. There’s also a temptation to pack in as much detail as possible, to show the extent of our research, knowledge, and hard work in preparing....
 
Much has been written about decision-making in recent years, as we learn more about how the brain works and behavioural economists devise experiments to understand how we approach choice. But much of it could lead us astray… Related posts: Deliberating over decisions...
 
Elections can bring a change of government. They certainly bring a change in the face of government, as some ministers lose their re-election bid and others are shuffled by the returning prime minister. Related posts: Brainstorming: back to the three basics Leaders and technology literacy Are you being manipulated into "liking" what you read?...
 
Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould warned that “the most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinize or question.” He was referring to sacred cows, beliefs that don’t stand up to scrutiny and lead us astray if clung to zealously....
 
Governments monitor monetary inflation, and have kept it in check in recent years. But there’s another inflation, rampant, that isn’t monitored and walloping all of us: communications inflation. Technology allows us to connect – and communicate – in a host of ways not available to us just a few years ago, let alone a couple...
 
The dramatic clandestine rescues by Navy SEALs and their daring raid on Osama Bin Laden’s lair may make their work seem a world apart from that of government executives. But in their 2003 book Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALs, advertising executive Jeff Cannon and his brother, Lt. Cmdr. Jon Cannon…...
 
If you can be a better leader through healthy living, the key to success in your job may lie in three words: Eat, move, sleep. Certainly Tom Rath believes they are important. And Rath, a Gallup researcher, has offered cogent advice before to government executives, in his writings on using their strengths at work and...
 
Finding mentors has been one of the holy grails of career progression, hammered into us by innumerable career consultants and the lessons of our own career. Yet now, someone is telling us to forget them. Related posts: The art of mentorship The benefits of an executive coach How Changemakers Get Things Done in Government: Intrapreneurship in Action...
 
Today, when emotional intelligence is treasured, Sherlock Holmes would seem like a poor role model for government executives. The man lived in his mind and seemed remote from humanity. He could get enmeshed in a drug stupor or sidetracked by some obscure experiment or offbeat intellectual interest. Definitely not the model for modern, progressive governance....
 
No. The word jars us. Just two letters, but it makes us decidedly uncomfortable. In the workplace, Yes is the golden word, the winning word, the expected word that garners plaudits....
 
Our days are a series of decisions, some minor, some medium, some major – and the occasional one humungous. It might seem daunting to think of your day in that fashion, since it’s obviously hard to get every decision right....
 
Presentations make the world go round, particularly in government. Unfortunately, too many of them are ineffective. Incomprehensible graphics, too much text, and garbled messages....
 
Your first instinct might be to deny it, but you are probably a salesperson. Most government executives are, even if the public service is seen as galaxies away from the grubby world of commerce and sales....
 
Getting subordinates to take responsibility in the appropriate situation can be a mind-boggling pursuit. Often we find ourselves lurching into frustrating tugs of war, where they take more responsibility than we want and then take absolutely no responsibility when we are hoping – and perhaps insisting – they do....
 
To improve your job performance and prepare for promotions, should you work on your strengths or weaknesses? What about your subordinates? In getting the best performance from them, should you prod them to enhance their strengths, or shore up or eliminate weaknesses?...
 
We seek success in our daily endeavours. But it’s often through failure that we can learn best....
 
We seek success in our daily endeavours. But it’s often through failure that we can learn best....
 
As the World Bank in the 1990s was preparing for a major transformation to mark its 50th anniversary, consultants Chris McGoff and Michael Doyle met to discuss the plan developed…...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
A few years back, consultants with ghSMART told us the biggest question we face is “who”: Picking staff is our most important decision, even more critical than “what” – the strategy we will employ. These days, in an era in which purpose is prized, “why” can often be the biggest question. But recently, best-selling author...