One of the most common problems with presentations stems from the relationship between the presenter and their visual aids. The relationship between these two aspects of a presentation is fundamental to its success, and it is like the relationship between a man and his donkey.
Typically a man would use a donkey to help carry the load. Donkeys are very good at carrying heavy loads and are very sure-footed but they rarely know where to go so they must be lead by the man.
Similarly, visual aids can be very good at creating strong mental images which helps the presenter to communicate his or her message. However, the presenter must lead the visual aid.
All too often, presenters bring up the next slide before they start talking about the subject. This may be because they are relying on the slide to remind them what to talk about next, or it may be because they don’t know any better. This turns the whole process of giving a presentation on its head. The slides lead the presentation and the presenter is reduced to the role of explaining what the slides say.
The problem is that the audience look at the slide as soon as it comes up, if the slide is understandable then the audience will immediately know what the presenter is going to talk about. They very quickly decide whether or not they already know about this aspect of the presentation and decide whether to listen to the speaker or switch off. This is made even worse if the slides contain a set of bullet points, which the audience can read.
While the slides, just like a donkey, can be the presenter’s beast of burden, conveying large amounts of information succinctly and successfully, hence relieving the presenter from having to describe everything in great detail, remember the slides need to be led by the presenter for the presentation to go in the right direction.
What load should your donkey carry?
To put it another way what are your slides for? Your visual aids should be exactly what it says on the tin. They should be something worth looking at and should help to get your message across.
Common mistakes with slides include using then as the speakers notes, which we have already covered above and using them as handouts after the presentation. Visual aids do not make good handouts. If your slides work well as a handout to be re-read after then event when you are no longer present, I can guarantee that they will not work well as visual aids. This is because visual aids need to be designed to accompany the spoken word, while handouts need to be designed as stand alone documents that work on their own without any additional words.
When can your donkey lead?
The only time that it is safe to display a visual aid, in advance of talking about the subject, is when the visual aid needs to be explained before is becomes meaningful. Creating visual aids of this nature can work very well, as when it is displayed they audience look at it and think “what is this all about?” and will immediately turn their attention back to the speaker of an explanation. Well designed animation has its part to play in this type of slide, so that the picture comes together through animation of the slide as the presenter tells the story.
All the very best with your future presentations
By Graham Young