Thoughts about presentations

My ZDnet colleague Christopher Dawson posted Bullets are dead. Long live PowerPoint today and it caused me to recall all of the bad presentation decks I've seen over the years.

My ZDnet colleague Christopher Dawson posted Bullets are dead. Long live PowerPoint today and it caused me to recall all of the bad presentation decks I've seen over the years. While I liked what he had to say, I'm unhappy that he caused me to recall all of those boring, misleading or badly constructed presentations. I can't help myself, I need to add a few thoughts to this discussion.

  • Know your audience. If you are speaking with a group of people, make sure that you're offering them insight, information, opinion and the like that will be useful and will be worth their time. Avoid presenting the painful, detailed study of something they would consider obvious.
  • A variant on the "know your audience" theme is to avoid presenting your audience's own work back to them as if they've never seen it before.  One vendor insisted on presenting 5 slides based upon a report I authored before they would present what they were doing about it. I told them that I conducted that research and wrote that report. I asked them to fast forward to slide 6. They wouldn't do it. What a waste of my time. I put the phone on mute and did other work until they got to the point.
  • Another corollary to the "know your audience" message is to avoid presenting one analyst's views to another analyst as if that was proven fact rather than another individual's insight and opinion.
  • Another version of this is if you're presenting something to the executives of Coke, don't serve Pepsi at the meeting!  Serving Pepsi won't make you any new friends.
  • Keep it simple. I've seen people try to put 10 lbs of material in a slide when 2 lb would have been better.  All 10 lbs of material could be part of the script for the slide, it just shouldn't be on the screen.
  • Lose the cutesy sound effects and slide automation features. They're distracting.
  • Make the slides and your script relate to one another.  I had the opportunity to listen to a technical presentation from one of the first commercial visitors to space. He was talking about open source software and his slides were pictures from space. He gave the audience a choice - ignore me or ignore my pretty pictures of space. Most chose to ignore him. To this day, I don't remember what he said.  The pictures of the Earth taken from space, however, were marvelous.
  • Would something other than a traditional slide deck work better? I've found showing a mind map of the topic rather than a slide deck with bullets and text works better for many audiences. Since they may have never seen a mind map, it keeps their attention better than a slide.

What suggestions would you give the experts (when the word expert is defined as someone more than 25 miles away from his office who has a slide deck to show you)?