Last month I attended two conferences. Most speakers were competent, knowledgeable and well-prepared. But too many presentations were poorly presented. Over the years I’ve learned that effective talks have at least two key elements: good material and good delivery. The impact of the content is weakened and sometimes undermined when the material is poorly presented. From my perspective and experience there are several culprits:
• Too much material crammed into too little time. Sometimes presenters rush through their talks, flip through slides and often mention how they can’t get everything in. This focuses the audience on the speaker’s feeling of pressure and distracts from the content of the talk. It also can show that the speaker didn’t rehearse and trim the talk to fit the allotted time.
• Cluttered slides. These include too many words, bullet point lists, irrelevant images (sometimes used to decorate slides) and long sentences that the presenter reads like using a teleprompter. One student made this comment: “The speakers threw a ton of information at us and seemed to be saying ‘catch this if you can.’” Occasionally lists and whole sentences may be helpful but in general, simple is better. For example, I avoid clutter and cutsey effects. If I have three points I list them on three slides with carefully selected images and as few words as possible.
• Too many slides. Shouldn’t a good presentation focus on the speaker and his or her message rather than being a tsunami of passing words and pictures? Too many slides can be distracting
• Pre-delivered handouts. Recently I taught a class where the students expected copies of my slides before I spoke along with all of my personal notes. This encourages audience members to read the slides before the talk and pretty much turn off the speaker. It also squelches the speaker’s creativity and ability to engage the participants when they already know what’s coming. Handouts are useful, especially for complex material, but consider when their distribution leads to best learning.
Compared to others, some presenters are more at ease before an audience. Some are better speakers. But all can improve, especially when we remember that delivery matters.
What has been your experience? How can presentations be better? Please comment.