Never let an audience get ahead of you

January 27, 2015

Letting the audience get ahead of you is one of the most common ways of killing a good presentation.

Once your audience know what you are going to say next, or even just think that they know what you are going to say next, there is a strong tendency for them to switch off and start thinking about other things. They will get bored waiting for you to say it and get on to the next point.

But how can an audience get ahead of you?

There are many ways for an audience can get ahead of you, if you let them. One of the most common ways is when you put up a slide with several bullet points on it and start working your way down the list. Before you are even through the first sentence describing the first bullet point, your audience will have read the slide. If the bullets are self explanatory, then they will get ahead of you. They will have caught the gist of what you are going to say and then have to wait for you to say it. While they are waiting, their minds will wander and you will have to work much harder to recapture their attention.

Using the line by line reveal facility in PowerPoint, will reduce the scale of the problem but still does not cure it. If you bring up the bullet point first and then start talking about it, you have still let the audience get ahead of you, and you will be telling them “old news”, as they have already read the headline. If you have to use bullet points, bring them up after you have talked about the topic to reinforce what it is you have said. Better still uses some pictures or even some physical props to help get your message across and leave the bullet points on your speaker notes.

Of course, handing out printed copies of the whole presentation before the event is another classic way of allowing the audience to get ahead of you. Have you ever looked at the audience during the first key note speech at a conference? Most of them will still be scanning through the handouts working out which presentations they think will be worth listening to, not paying the slightest attention to what the key note speaker is saying.

In the same vain, putting up an agenda slide at the start of a presentation is another way for your audience to “get ahead”. I know it is fairly common practise to have an agenda slide at the start of a presentation but I think this is done more out of habit than for the benefit to your audience. How many feature films do you know that start with an agenda? Agenda or contents pages are only relevant to printed documents so that the reader can skip to the part they are most interested in. Do you want your audience to skip to the part of your presentation they are most interested in, and ignore the rest?

Presentations need to have a structure, so that your audience can understand how you have taken them to where they are now. But this structure does not need to be broadcast in advance in can be revealed as you go along.

To keep an audience listening you need to build in some suspense and tension just like in a television drama or a play. Don’t give the game away by letting them see a précis of your talk before you have a chance to speak.

All the very best for your future presentations





The Presenter and The Visual Aid

February 17, 2014

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

A brief history of slide design

July 30, 2013

Slides or visual aids  have changed significantly over the years. Ignoring the blackboard, whiteboard and flipchart which have been used for mainly hand drawn visual aids, the introduction of slides to support a presentation started with the use of 35mm slides.  These were prepared, usually by specialists well in advance of a presentation. They were expensive to produce and once created could never be changed.

Overhead Projectors

The first main revolution in slides came with the overhead projector. This enabled individuals to create their own slides, either hand drawn or printed using transparencies and a photocopier. Creating slides was still a fairly time consuming process and most slides were monochrome and textual.

A typical slide showing the three keys to good health might look something like this:


Notice it is very text heavy with all the detail spelt out. Individual bullet points could be revealed one at a time by placing a sheet of paper under the transparency and pulling it down, point by point.


Initially PowerPoint was used mainly to create the slide layouts for Overhead projector transparencies, but as technology developed an LCD tablet mounted on an overhead projector allowed slides to be viewed directly from the computer. Not only did this speed up the whole process of creating a visual aid, but they could now easily be created using colour and the omnipresent clip art.


As corporate marketing departments became involved in the production of slides for staff to use then corporate branding became more important. Slides had to comply to a predefined format and display the company’s logo. Individuals were no longer free to use which ever of the many standard templates provided by PowerPoint they chose. In some ways the creation of a corporate standard was a good thing mainly because it limited the use of over zealous animation and slide transitions, which had started to detract from the content of the visual aids.

Corporate Branding

standard course

As the processing power and storage capabilities of the standard PC improved it became more and more practical to include photo quality images in a presentation, this co-incided with the advent of the internet, enabling images to be found and shared easily. Clip art became out dated and old fashioned.

Using Images



In the above example, we still have the same corporate layout and all the main text is still present but now it has been augmented by an image. Often people would keep the bullet points they had become used to using but add a photograph on one side of the slide. However, in attempts to de-clutter their slides and make the most of the images many people decided to dump the corporate formats and concentrate on making the slide content as visible as possible and remove anything that may distract the viewer from their key message.. As in the following example:


Keep it Simple

Current thinking has taken this idea of “keeping it simple” even further. There is now a the idea of only having one idea per slide and minimizing the amount of text shown on a slide. After all if the presenter is saying the words, why do people need to read them as well. Contrary to popular belief, people can’t actually multitask very well, so if the audience are reading the slide they are not listening to what the presenter is saying and vice versa.

One idea One Slide

This concept means that the visual aids to accompany a presentation on the “Basis for Good Health” might now consist of three slides rather than one and look more like this:




However, this may be too simplistic. After all the topic is good health, rather than each of the contributors to good health, so you may prefer to bring them all back together like this:

good health

Visual aids have evolved in line with the capability and capacity of available technology.  Adding video clips and live twitter feeds into a presentation is now common place along with other technologies which encourage audience participation. As long as it is implemented in such a way that it continues to add to what the speaker is saying rather than distract the audience, I think any such improvements should be applauded.

Remember the purpose of visual aids is to add value to what the speaker is saying not replace the speaker or repeat what he/she has just said.

Finally, don’t forget that your visual aids don’t have to be slides at all, they can just as easily be physical objects.

All the best

Graham Young

Are corporate presentations worthless?

August 3, 2012

Recently, I ran some training for the UK division of a multi-national company. The participants were all senior business development managers. During the training each of the participants had to gave a presentation to a pre-defined audience, for example one had to give a company overview to the CEO and board members of a prospective customer; another had to present to the CTO and technical team; others gave their presentations to the CFO, or a project team.

While the standard of speaking was very good, as you might expect for such experienced managers, there was one negative aspect across the all the presentations. Everyone was using PowerPoint slides from a corporate set.  While not all presentations were the same, the same company introduction slides kept cropping up in everyone’s presentations.

These slides contained a lot of text and were very information rich. To their credit the presenters were not slavishly going through each slide bit by bit but were highlighting the parts that fitted in with the theme of their presentations.  When I asked why they were using slides with so much redundant information on them, I was told that they were the corporate slides, produced by HQ and that everyone was expected to use these slides. The other excuse was that they didn’t have the time to create their own slides.

In my mind this raises the question “Are corporate presentation worthless?”

The problem with corporate presentation slides stem from the remoteness of the marketing people who create them. They sit in their ivory towers and create presentations about their organisation, their products, services and solutions. They know all about the benefits and the USP’s  (unique selling propositions) of their solutions, but very little about individual prospect’s needs and wants. They try to create a one size fits all presentation which covers everything a prospect may want to know about their company.

In addition, central departments like to spell things out, they feel they have to cater for the lowest common denominator, i.e. the fresh-faced new sales recruit who knows very little about the company and its products. The result is that they tend to use more text, to ensure the correct message is given during the presentation.   In essence, they like to spell everything out, literally.

Inevitably, any such corporate presentation becomes very organisation centric, as the person who created it knows a lot about the organisation but very little about individual customers.

Good presentations are about the audience not about the presenter.  By using the corporate slides, in my example, the audience were suffering from information overload, which detracted from what the speaker was saying. In my view the presenters would have been far better off, radically simplifying each of the slides that they used, to ensure they were only depicting the point being made at that part of the presentation.

Given that corporate slides shows are always likely to be more about the corporation than the customers, and will by definition tend to be very generic, are they still worth creating?

I would value your feed back on this question.

20 Tips for an Effective Presentation

April 1, 2011

  1.  Always use PowerPoint. By using PowerPoint everyone will understand you better because if they missed what you said, they can still read it on the slides. For this reason it is important that you get everything you are going to say on to your slides.
  2. Pictures can be misleading, and can easily be misconstrued, so stick to text on your slides.
  3. To make the slides look more interesting by using a colourful but consistent background. Always include your company’s logo, on every slide, to help strengthen your brand image.
  4. Use the standard PowerPoint template which includes slide # of ## in the footer, so that your audience knows where you are in your presentation.
  5. If you are using charts, create them in Excel and then copy them across with all the labelling etc intact. This means that people will be able to understand the slides in detail when they look at them after your presentation.
  6. Handouts are essential; always give out copies of your slides as handouts before you start.
  7. If you’re nervous beforehand, drink lots of Irish coffee or a quick shot of tequila, you soon won’t notice the nerves.
  8. Always start a presentation by telling people your name and who you work for, a bit of family history wouldn’t go a miss either. Just so you audience can get to know you as a person.
  9. Anyone who is a bit shy and doesn’t like looking people in the eye should present staring at a point on the back wall, or looking at the tops of people’s heads.
  10. You want to make sure that you are heard and understood, so speak very clearly, enunciate every single word with care. If you speak quietly it makes people listen harder, so that they are more attentive.
  11. Keep your hands still, if you find them waving about put both hands in your pockets.
  12. Don’t worry about remembering everything you are going to say, you can always look at your slides to remind you of the key points and any detailed data.
  13. Emotions have no place in business so just stick to the facts, don’t be tempted to use emotional language as this can be misunderstood.
  14. Don’t try to personalise your presentation or refer to individual audience members and their experiences, you may end up alienating the rest of the audience.
  15. Only talk about things you know about e.g. yourself and your experiences. After all presentations are great opportunities to boost your own ego.
  16. Humour is good in most presentations so start with a joke, the bluer the better.
  17. Keep drinking the water provided, no matter how dry your throat gets.
  18. When presenting to an industry audience it is OK to use lots of jargon and technical terminology, after all they should all know what the TLA’s stand for.
  19. Always end a presentation by asking who has a question they would like answered.
  20. If in doubt just do what everyone else does, they will all be asleep anyway.

Finally, never present on the morning of 1st April


Interactive Presentations

March 18, 2011

Any one who follows me or has been on one of my presentation training courses will know I am a proponent of interactive presentations. The more your audience participates in your presentation the longer and better they will remember it. As Confucius once said “I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand”

With small audiences gaining that participation is relatively easy but the larger the audience gets the harder it becomes. The other day I came across a new product from a dutch company which will change this forever. It is called Shakespeak and essentially what it allows people to do is interact with your PowerPoint presentation using their mobile phone.

In PowerPoint you can set up either a multiple choice closed question or an open question, then when you arrive at that part of your presentation, everyone can phone in their answers, using SMS, an internet link or Twitter. The responses are then shown on the next slide, as a chart or a list of text.

There is no need for any expensive polling equipment, as everyone has a mobile these days, all you need is a laptop with an internet connection running PowerPoint.

The service is very easy to use and enables you to find out exactly what your audience are thinking there and then. You no longer have to rely on their body language or facial expressions to work out if they are interested in what you are saying, you can ask them. In educational sessions, you can check if they are understanding what you are teaching, by dropping in the occasional question. New product launches could be made more interactive by asking how people might use the new product. Sales presentations could prompt for current problems that need to be addressed. Rather than leaving people feeling uncertain you could prompt them to send in any questions they might have, so that you can answer them there and then.

Answers to open questions can be up to 160 characters long so there is ample space to pose a question or express a sentiment.

So get your thinking caps on about what questions you could be asking your audiences, make you presentations more interactive, more memorable and more effective. You can even try Shakespeak for free, just download it from their website.

By the way, I have no association with this product or the company, I just think it is a great new tool.

Ban the Bullets

January 27, 2011

Around the world, in every office, conference room and meeting room, every minute, of every day people are standing up giving presentations with a list of bullet points displayed on the screen behind them. Now just because millions of people do it does it make it right? The short answer is NO !Ban the Bullets

Using bullet points in your presentations is:

  • Lazy
  • Ineffective
  • Futile

They rarely help the overall communications process which the presentation is trying to achieve.

While it is true that the human memory is better at retaining visual information rather than aural information, using bullet points distracts the listener from what the presenter is saying while they read the bullets. Then when the presenter repeats what the audience has just read, it is old news. And we all know how boring it is to hear old news repeated!

If, in an attempt to be more interesting, the presenter rephrases the bullet points in his oration this just ends up confusing the audience as they hear one thing but see something different.

So using bullet points in your presentation is a “lose-lose” situation.

Why do so many people use bullet points? I believe they are a bi-product of the presentation’s development. When you are developing your thoughts for a presentation is very useful to write down short bullet points and to be able to re-order, add and delete points as you think through your presentation. The result being a sheet or sheets of paper covered with a long list of bullet points. The problem comes when people transcribe these bullets into the presentation software.

This usually happens for one of to reasons:

A)     The presenter doesn’t know any better.

B)     The presenter feels that he/she needs the reminders to help them present the information and keep the presentation on track.

In the latter case, I would suggest that the bullet points are transcribed on to the speaker’s notes, not the slides. That way the speaker can be reminded of what to say, without broadcasting it in advance to his audience.

Using the slides to remind you what to say turns the whole process of giving a presentation on its head. Rather than the presenter leading the presentation with the visual aids supporting what he says, it makes the slides lead the presentation with the presenter demoted to the role of describing what the slides say. In the worst cases the presenter becomes completely redundant as the audience can read the slides and understand the points themselves. The “presenter” would have been better off sending everyone an email, far more efficient.

Hopefully, I have now convinced you that bullet points are not good for your presentations. This raises the next question; what else should you put on our visual aids, or should we do away with the slides altogether?

Personally, I believe slides can help get your message across and help to make it more memorable. After all it was Confucius who once said, “I hear I forget, I see I remember”. What should go on the slides though? Well the clue is in the name, “visual aids”. Your slides should conjure up strong mental images which reinforce what you are saying.

The best example of this I have come across was in a presentation about global warming. The speaker was making the point that what happens in relation to global warming is all down us as individuals. To illustrate the point that one person can make a difference he put up a slide with three images: “American policemen beating up a black person”,”Martin Luther King” and “President Barack Obama”, what a change in one generation!

So I appeal to your better judgement, Ban the Bullets, be more creative and make your presentations work.

If you agree with me the bullet points should be banned from professional presentations, please add you name in the comments box below or take my poll

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