Presenter’s Manifesto – Prologue

We’ve all been there – sitting in a room waiting for the start of a presentation. We may be there because the topic is of interest to us, or maybe our boss required us to attend. It might be a team or department meeting, a project meeting, or perhaps a sales presentation by a vendor. Yet none of this matters. What matters is that the presentation hasn’t started yet because the presenter doesn’t have his act together, and our precious time is being wasted.

why oh why oh why

via Flickr, courtesy of the Society of National Association Publications

Usually it begins with the projector. How many times have you heard the following:

  • “How do I turn this on? <clicks a button on the remote>…. It’s not on yet….<clicks the button again>….Maybe it’s on now… <clicks another button>….Does anyone know how to use this projector?”, or
  • “I can’t get my laptop to see your projector. Wait just a sec while I reboot”, or
  • “My slides aren’t displaying right on your projector, I’m really sorry”, or
  • “Do you have a video adapter that fits my laptop? I don’t have one/left mine back at the office.”

Alas, amidst the tangle of power cords, video cables, and softly spoken curse words, it doesn’t look like things are going to get started anytime soon.

At last the presenter addresses us. His first act is to make various excuses for his lack of technical prowess and inadequate preparation. Next, if offered a microphone, he declines. He tells us he doesn’t like to use microphones, and then speaks in soft tones that never reach the back of the room.

Eventually we are treated to the first slide, and what a slide it is, chocked full of bulleted text in a font size smaller than even your eye doctor would subject you to. And then our presenter grandly turns his back to the audience and begins to read every word of it, pausing every few moments to insert an apprehensive, and eventually annoying “ummmm” or “uhhhhh”. You notice that this is slide 1 of 90. Yes, it’s going to be a very long presentation.

Does any of this scene resonate with you? I’ll wager you could add quite a few more paragraphs with your own presentation horror stories. Perhaps like you, I’ve sat in literally hundreds of presentations that either never got off the ground smoothly, didn’t fly smoothly, or ended in a fiery crash landing. And sadly, the presenter often thinks that it all went OK. He “got ’ir done”, and in his mind, communicated clearly and effectively. When the audience doesn’t respond as expected, or the sale doesn’t get made, he wants to blame everything but his presentation. He doesn’t realize that a good message poorly communicated may as well be a bad message perfectly communicated. The results are the same: poor. And more tragically, the precious time of others has been needlessly wasted.

The purpose of this series of posts is to break the cycle of presentation malpractice. Anyone can learn to be an effective presenter. It doesn’t require one to be an eloquent speaker, it just requires a clear message, good technical hygiene, and a little practice and discipline.

When we present, the ultimate goal is to communicate a message to our audience that is going to benefit them in a meaningful way. Whether we are trying to persuade or enable the audience, the goal of every presentation is to get the message out clearly and effectively so that they become more knowledgable or are moved to act. Anything that detracts from that must be eliminated. It’s easy to do (really!), so let’s get started.

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