Archive for the ‘Visuals’ Category

When you take questions at the end of a presentation, it is not unusual to have to revisit some of your slides.  And, inevitably, these slides will come from different parts of your presentation.

How do you jump around in your slide show in a smooth, professional way?

The answer is not what most presenters do.  They either tap the arrow keys repeatedly until they reach the slide they want or they call up the Slide Sorter view in PowerPoint and hunt around until they find the right slide to double-click.  Both of these methods are clunky.

You can go to any slide in PowerPoint by entering its number.  In other words, typing “17 + Enter” will take you directly to slide #17.

Or course, you’re thinking: “That’s fine, but I’m not inclined to memorize the numbers for all my slides.”  You don’t have to.

Before your presentation, go to Normal View in PowerPoint and select the Outline tab to the left.  Then collapse the outline down to just the headlines.  You do this by right-clicking on the outline and selecting Collapse All.  When you have just the headlines with the corresponding slide numbers, print a copy.

You can then take your printed sheet of the slide headlines in numbered order and lay it next to your laptop during the presentation.  A quick look down at this reference sheet will quickly tell you what slide number you need.

By using this technique you can effortlessly move around your deck as you answer questions and facilitate a discussion.

I recently listened to someone giving advice to a presenter that is as wrong as it is popular.

The presenter was being told that he should only speak to some of the bullet points on his slides and let the audience members read the rest.  This was offered as a way to both avoid too much detail and to keep from speaking too long.

The whole problem with this often-given advice is that people cannot simultaneously concentrate on what a speaker is saying while processing slide content the speaker is not addressing.  They have to choose one or the other.  They can read the slide and tune out the speaker, or listen to the speaker and ignore the slide.

Forcing audience members into this dilemma causes frustration and, potentially, reduces their overall attention to both the speaker and the slides.

Slides do their job best when they visually support what is being said, not when they offer an alternative source of information.

One of the most common questions in a presentation skills workshop is about slide quantity.  How many slides should I use?

An often-suggested rule-of-thumb is one slide per minute.  In other words, a twenty-minute presentation should have around twenty slides.

An article I recently read legitimately complained that this rule is arbitrary.  The author made the case that so many issues come into play that you can only really answer the “how many” question with “It depends.”

I agree.  It depends.

Of course, that answer doesn’t help if you’re struggling to work out an appropriate slide count.

I have a suggestion that can at least get you started on determining the size of your slide deck.

Imagine that the only visual aid you have to work with is a flip chart.  Anything you are going to diagram or write out is going to have to be done by hand before the presentation or while you are talking.

Then ask yourself: What visuals would you draw or write out despite the hassle?  What would be worth the effort because it had the potential to help you get your message across successfully?

That small number of visuals represents what your presentation really needs and what you are most inclined to fully utilize.

How many additional visuals should you create through the ease of PowerPoint?  It depends.  But I wouldn’t go too far beyond my imaginary flip chart count.  It’s OK to add some helpful-to-have slides to your must-have slides, but after that, slide excess starts setting in.

One popular training tip these days says that presenters should use their laptop as a monitor.  In other words, they should place it between themselves and the audience.  When they need to look at a slide they should look at their laptop, not at the projected slide that is showing on the main screen.  The main screen is for the audience only.

The rationale for this tip is that it prevents speakers from turning their back to the audience as they look at the main screen.  By looking at the laptop instead, they remain facing the audience.

It sounds OK in theory, but in practice, many presenters become detached from their audience.  They spend a large part of their time staring downward at their laptop, and they stop verbally referencing the slides.  Instead of saying “As you can see here on this graph…,” they just talk about the contents of the graph while the audience members do their best to follow along.

I still find that a better connection with the audience is maintained if a presenter speaks to the main screen, gesturing toward it and verbally guiding the audience members’ attention.  As you can see on the far right of the graph, there was a dramatic drop in sales in the fourth quarter.

Any tendency to turn completely away from the audience can be minimized by moving close enough to the screen that only a slight turn is needed to see it.  It’s when speakers get too far out in front of the screen that they are forced to turn their back to the audience in order to see the slide.

Well maintained eye contact, while referencing the main screen together with the audience, makes for a good audience-speaker connection.

Traditionally, the vertical (y) axis of a graph is labeled vertically.  In other words, the label runs parallel to the axis.

In a printed document this is no problem.  The reader turns the document 90 degrees and reads the label.

The creators of PowerPoint kept this labeling convention even though the viewers of a projected graph cannot turn the screen 90 degrees.  They have to tilt their heads sideways to read the y-axis label.  It’s a rather silly thing to make an audience do.

Turning this text so that it is easily read is no big deal.  Every version of PowerPoint provides a way to rotate text.

What I find interesting is how hard it is to get presenters to make this change.  I suggest it to clients and they look at me as if I am suggesting something too radical to contemplate.   It’s a study in the power of convention.

When it comes to showing slides, the one thing most presenters could do better is to get out of the way so that everyone can see the slides.

You would not think that such a basic consideration would even need to be mentioned, but presenters who block people’s view are in the majority.

I know from providing feedback in workshops that most speakers don’t realize what they are doing.  You can even warn them in advance of the problem and two minutes later they are blocking someone’s view.

The worst offenders roam around in front of the screen, often letting the projector shine on them.  But even more considerate presenters typically don’t back up far enough to let the closest audience members see.

Before you present, consciously work out the lines of sight and establish your boundaries.  Where do you need to stand so that even the people farthest to the side can see?  Imagine a dotted line on the floor marking this boundary. 

If you are going to be seriously constrained, consider moving some chairs or repositioning the screen.  If the seating layout allows it, one of the best arrangements is to have the screen off-center to the right and angled toward the audience.  This frees up more space for the speaker on the audience’s left (the appropriate side for languages read left to right).

However you choose to arrange things, the objective is simple: When a slide is showing, everyone can see it.

The CEO of an investment company once asked me to observe his business development team speaking to a room full of financial advisors.

The level of presentation skills on display was reasonably high and the presentations were polished, but the audience was unengaged.  Then one of the presenters turned off the slide projector, pulled a flip chart forward, and started explaining an investment strategy by drawing diagrams as he spoke.

The audience noticeably came to life.  People started taking notes and raising their hands to ask questions and make observations.  As it was explained to me afterward, this speaker was doing exactly what these advisors themselves like to do: explain concepts with spontaneous diagramming.  He was speaking their language.

This speaker did such an obviously good job of connecting with the audience that I was surprised when the CEO declared that he never wanted to see that kind of presentation again.  He felt strongly that it ran counter to the sophisticated image he wanted the company to project.  He had “nothing against flip charts, but in the future they must be professionally done in advance of any meeting.”

I disagreed. 

The dynamic quality of real-time drawing was central to the speaker’s effectiveness.  Although more attractive, diagrams prepared in advance would not have had the same persuasive impact.

Up goes a slide.

It’s a complicated diagram with color-coded lines going every way imaginable.

What are the first words out of the presenter’s mouth?

“As you can see . . .”

As I can see what?!?

The first time audience members see a slide—particularly a complicated slide—they need some help getting oriented.

Presenters forget this.  They forget that the audience members don’t share their familiarity with the slide.  So, they immediately dive into the content while the audience members are still working out things like headings on columns or the “x” and “y” axes.

Take a moment to get everyone up to speed.  What you are looking at here is a diagram of the four available distribution channels.  They are set against a timeline representing the number of days from initial shipment to arrival at the project site.  As you can see…

It doesn’t take much, just a short explanation.  Then your audience is ready to follow along as you point out what the slide is saying.

Back in the days of overhead projectors, speakers transitioned better between visuals.  It’s easy to understand why; they could glance at the next transparency as they finished speaking to the current one.  They knew what was coming next, so they could speak to it as they made the transition.  Given this increased order volume, we have had to make the production changes you see on this next table.

Now, with computer-projected slides, transitions between visuals are less common.  Presenters don’t always remember what slide comes next.  As a result, they don’t flow smoothly between slides.

This doesn’t have to happen.  An option in PowerPoint called “Presenter View” creates a laptop view that includes the next slide, even though the audience is only seeing the current slide.

I was with some Mac users recently and they were accessing this option in a drop-down menu.  For a PC computer, you do the following after connecting to a projector:

  1. Right click on the desktop and select Properties.
  2. Select the Settings tab.
  3. Click on the “2” monitor and enable the option to “Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor.”  Click OK.
  4. Open up PowerPoint and go to the Slide Show menu.  Choose Set Up Show and go to where it says Multiple Monitors.
  5. Select the Monitor 2 option and check Show Presenters View.  Click OK to save the settings.
  6. Open your slide show and press the F5 key.

Having gone through this process with my laptop once, I now just need to press the F5 key after getting hooked up to a projector and opening my presentation.  My audience can only see the slide I am speaking to, but I can see what is coming up.

How many times have you wanted to call out to a speaker: “Put the laser pointer down!”?

We all have stories of speakers who jiggled that little red light until we were nauseous, or unconsciously created a light show on the ceiling.

It’s best to minimize your use of laser pointers.  They distract more than help.  

But my slides are complicated!  Have you tried to simplify them?  Have you considered breaking them down and revealing their components in steps?

If you have to show something complicated in its entirety, consider building a highlighting sequence into the slide show itself.  It will come across more professional.   

Also, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of simply pointing with your words.  As you can see in the middle of the diagram, right around 3 o’clock, we anticipate the need for a safety valve.

If, in the end, you have to use a laser pointer, circle what you want to highlight one time and then turn off the light.  Even the calmest speaker cannot hold the beam still or underline straight.


Steele Presentation Coaching