Presenters must ‘get smart’ on visual aids if they want to grab the attention of audiences. Patricia Moore has this, and plenty more, advice on presentation technologies and techniques from the experts.
With their references to ‘death by PowerPoint’, ‘killer presentations that now just kill the audience’ and those that ‘bore the audience to death’, business presentations today sound a bit like ‘slasher’ novels.
Is technology the culprit or do presenters need to get smarter about the way they’re using it?
Dave Gee, visual communications manager at Canon NZ, thinks it’s time for some changes. “Businesses are moving to better presentation systems but the use of these depends on the acceptance of technology and altering the way we present to an audience. ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is a phrase that’s too often used.”
The industry is getting more complex and more sophisticated as presenters’ requirements increase, says Paul Monaghan, sales and technical director at ProVision Technologies.
“The demand for better quality images and better quality sound is greater; the better the stuff you want, the more bandwidth, the more memory, the faster the data. The changes over the last ten years have been incredible.”
However Boyd Visuals technology specialist Peter Baldwin believes in some regards the choices are actually simpler.
“Whiteboards still play a major role for many presenters and these can now be integrated with the data projector to provide a seamless transition between a ‘show’n’tell’ PowerPoint presentation and a more interactive, discussion-based meeting.”
And, while technology is still evolving, Baldwin says it’s more focused on refining existing technologies than on major new developments.
“Projection is still the most cost-effective technology for displaying information to audiences although some smaller meeting rooms are being fitted out with flat screen displays. Overall, projectors continue to increase in performance whilst decreasing in cost.”
NEC’s Daniel Hancox says they’re seeing migration from super short throw projectors to ultra short throw. “Products like the U260WG have almost no shadow or glare, greatly improving integration with interactive whiteboards. The integrated 3D capability further enhances the presenter’s capabilities.”
And, an increase in awareness of environmentally-friendly information communications technology is generating a greater demand for projectors that reduce a business’ carbon footprint, he says. “Projectors with inbuilt eco-conscious technology that tracks and calculates the conservation of green gas emission, such as the Eco Mode, which decreases the amount of power consumed by reducing the brightness level of the projector, are becoming popular.”
The range of projectors and other AV equipment is enormous, so get advice from a professional AV company, advises Baldwin. “They should not only be able to talk technically about products and recommend what level of technology suits your organisation.”
Consider the amount of ambient light in the room and the intended use. Training sessions need brighter light to allow for note-taking; videos or presentations require less. The number of people viewing, the type of screen surface and requirements around portability, are also important.
Epson’s projector project manager Bruce Bealby offers the following tips;
• Offices are generally brightly lit so a projector needs to be powerful enough to be seen in this environment.
• 3LCD projectors produce a colour light output equal to their white light output. The result is bright vibrant colours and images that really pop on screen to make presentations more effective.
• The projector must have appropriate connectivity for the sources intended to be used. VGA (Video Graphics Array) suits most computers but there are easier options such as Epson’s USB Plug ‘n Play. Just connect your PC or Mac to the projector via USB and start presenting. No complicated set-up is required.
• Resolution – the number of pixels in the image displayed. Basically the higher the resolution the sharper the image. While SVGA (Super VGA) may provide a low-cost product make sure you’re satisfied with the image quality. You may wish to step up to XGA (Extended GA), or better still, WXGA(Wide XGA) or widescreen. WXGA is the same resolution as almost all notebooks today so matching a WXGA projector makes for a seamless, easily operated, high-quality combination.
Interactivity is finding acceptance in the commercial market, says Baldwin. “We’re seeing a growth in the implementation of interactive boards which not only capture written material, but can also control and interact with virtually any software running on the user’s computer.” Indeed, touchscreens and interactive technologies are driving innovation in presentation technology, says Hancox. “Products are being developed to support interactive presentations where the screen is very intuitive with no keyboard or mouse required. Touchscreens are the fastest pointing devices and require little thinking by the presenter to interact with the material being delivered on screen.”
With an analogue sunset on the horizon, “Everything is going digital,” says Monaghan. “Within the next year or two manufacturers will stop making devices that output an analogue signal.” Where previously a presentation room would be cabled with its own CAT5 or VGA system, the solution is now black boxes that plug into an existing network, enabling a display screen to operate in one room, while the computer from which a presentation originates sends the material, via the existing infrastructure, from another.
“Instead of copper-based cabling like CAT5, we’re now running fibre that allows a huge bandwidth and means you can transport full HD surround-sound images down one piece of fibre for up to 1000 feet without having to amplify the signal.” ProVision Technologies recently completed the installation of 20 kilometres of fibre in the newly-renovated Auckland City Art Gallery, a project Monaghan says was not without its challenges, given the age of the building.
Setting up a dedicated room for presentations is no longer a hugely costly exercise; around $5000 to $6000 should work for most smaller businesses, says Monaghan. And there’s no broad-brush answer to the question of buying or leasing. The challenge is understanding your needs. If a simple projector and your PC will do, then that’s what you need, says Dave Gee. “If you want to wow your audience and keep them focused on you and your presentation, then other products are needed. But commit to staff training.”
For high users of AV gear, doing sophisticated presentations where the availability of the latest equipment is important, leasing may be the best option, says Monaghan. “Lease it and get a support and maintenance contract so that if anything blows up when you’ve spent three months getting 20 people together in the same room for just an hour, someone will be there in ten minutes to save the day.”
Saving the day is one thing; making it for a captive audience is what presentations are all about. And no amount of fancy technology will compensate for a poorly prepared or delivered presentation, says Peter Baldwin. “Once you’ve decided on what and how you want to present, practise, practise, practise!”
As leader of Microsoft NZ’s office division, Zaid Alkadhi knows the power of PowerPoint. He does a number of presentations every week and he sees how others use – and misuse – it. “Too many people hide behind the slides. They should not be the story. They’re there to help.” His advice is, start with the script – the story – and build the slides to support it.
“What people actually do is create a brain-dump of everything they want to say and that’s their slides.”
Don’t click then talk, “And definitely don’t read the slide,” says Dave Gee. “Do this and you’re redundant as a presenter; most of us can read.”
Decide what’s important, create bullet points and have just one point per slide, says Alkadhi. “If you’re trying to build something around a number, put just that number on the slide. Get it to project from small to big, and sit there. Leave it there without saying a word. Then tell the story behind the number; people will remember it.” And, if you’re using images beware they don’t appear to be random. He advises linking them with a border that’s consistent across the presentation.
Presenters need to be familiar with the PowerPoint menu, says Alkadhi. “People look at what they know and never try to right click or drop down to see what’s available. There have been changes since the 2003 version.”
And he has some tips for PowerPoint users; “Stuff I use which is very good and people often don’t know about.”
Blank the screen (using B) when speaking. “People will then focus on you, not the slide.” (Use B to return to the screen). Use Ctrl P and the mouse becomes a pen enabling the presenter to ‘write’ on the slide as it is being presented. “This is a useful technique if you’re trying to highlight something. Make use of clip art and its thousands of images and consider creating a ‘custom’ show – an under-utilised functionality that’s fantastic.” This enables the presenter to immediately adapt to changes such as a shorter speaking time.
And one of the biggest things he’s learned is to always have a backup plan. “Print your slides with notes so that if anything happens you can still tell your entire story.”
He says he also emails himself the presentation, puts it on his SkyDrive and on a flash drive. “If anything goes wrong I still have it in multiple variations.”
Mastering the art of successful business presentations has been described as ‘the new workplace survival skill’. However it appears around 90 percent of us suffer from ‘glossophobia’ or fear of public speaking. This leaves ten percent prepared to stand up and speak, says David Nottage. “And we wish most of them didn’t. The biggest reason they go wrong is their use of visual aids.”
Nottage, of public speaking consultancy Torque Ltd, is a ‘World Champion of Public Speaking’ (1996). He’s not anti visual aids, but he believes too many presenters try to impress with their mastery of them. “The true secret of using visual aids is the age-old adage, ‘less is more’. The less bells and whistles, the more streamlined the presentation. The less words, the more listening; the less slides, the more eye contact.”
Eye contact is paramount, says Nottage. “If you can’t look someone in the eye and tell them whatever you need to, there’s probably not a lot of hope the audience is going to believe you, let alone listen to you.” And, if a presenter stands motionless behind a lectern with a bright light on for an entire presentation, it doesn’t take long for the audience to be looking at the light, he says.
Nottage has three key recommendations for presenters; constantly improving, knowing how to make an impact, and ensuring the presentation flows.
By not actively seeking ongoing feedback, presenters continue to make the same mistakes. “If you don’t know what’s broken you can’t fix it. The best feedback is seeing yourself on a recording.”
As for impact, he says content can have as little as seven percent impact on an audience. “This leaves 93 percent to come from vocal variety and body language, yet most presenters never practice their delivery. Stand up and practice your presentation three times, aloud, in front of your peers.”
And make it flow. “Write a presentation that flows seamlessly so that your audience can follow it and stay engaged. I’m not psychic but I’m pretty sure most people sit in front of their computer, open up PowerPoint and create their title page. Thereafter it is death by PowerPoint. That’s why most presentations are boring, have too many facts and usually lose the audience within minutes.”
Patricia Moore is an Auckland-based freelance writer.