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Quality of conclusion, not Quantity of work; Issue #376 November 8, 2016

One of the issues I often see in presentations is a slide with a spreadsheet showing all the calculations that were done when analyzing a situation or set of data. This is usually an indication of a fundamental difference in what the presenter thinks the executives want and what the executives actually need. The presenter puts the spreadsheet of calculations on the slide thinking that the executives want to see how much effort went into the analysis. The presenter did a lot of work and wants to show it. If they only showed a few numbers on the slide, how would the executives know that the analysis was thorough and well done? When the executives see the spreadsheet on the screen, they get overwhelmed by all the numbers. They may get confused. They may ask to just “give me the bottom line” or something similar. If they are detail oriented, they may focus on one inconsequential number and drill down a rabbit hole that has nothing to do with the real message. None of these reactions are what the presenter thought they would get. The presenter thought the executives would be so impressed with the volume of work that was done. The presenter is surprised that they don’t get a standing ovation. What is wrong with the executives? The problem is that the executives care more about the quality of the conclusion than the quantity of work that was done. The executive role is about making important decisions to move the organization forward towards the goals that have been set. This requires insight from analysis of data and situations. The...

Less isn’t more, Clear is More; Issue #375 October 25, 2016

In my customized workshops I show makeovers of slides the participants have provided to show how cutting the information overload makes the message much clearer for the audience. I often hear someone say that this is an example of the “less is more” approach. In this article, I want to explain why I don’t think that less is more. By definition, less can’t be more. They are two opposite ideas. If less was truly more in presenting, we could just stop talking mid-sentence half-way through our time and the audience would jump to their feet in a thunderous standing ovation. The CEO would rush over and immediately promote us to a senior executive position. See how ridiculous that is. Just presenting less won’t help the audience. What will help is selecting the few key messages they need to hear and presenting those well. I think “Clear is More” is a better statement to use. Clear communication of key messages is better understood, more often acted upon, and more appreciated by the audience. Selecting the most important messages for your audience is not easy. It requires effort to identify the needs of this audience, understand how to move them to the goal you have set for the presentation, and the ability to emotionally let go of some of the information you have worked on that isn’t as important as the key messages. This is much harder than just cutting half the presentation to create “less”. Clear communication also means creating visuals that the audience immediately understands. Start with a headline for each slide that summarizes the message you want the audience...

How to get the audience to care about your presentation; Issue #374 October 11, 2016

In two of my customized workshops recently, participants asked how they can keep the audience engaged during the presentation. This is not the first time this question has been asked. I think every presenter wants their audience to pay attention to what they are saying. Today I want to suggest how you can do this. Some presenters tell me that they can’t get the audience to pay attention because the topic being presented is boring. It may be legal or regulatory information, or it may be financial results. I don’t think these topics are necessarily boring. I think there are ways that every topic can grab the attention of the audience. It isn’t the topic that is the issue. It is how the topic is presented. If you believe the topic is boring and you just drone on and on in a monotone voice, any topic will be boring. Presenters need to remember that the presentation isn’t for them, it is for the audience. And the audience is made up of people like themselves, and like you and I. All of us pay attention to what we are interested in, and that is the key when developing our presentations. For each audience you speak to, analyze the people who will be there. What matters to them? What about your topic impacts their situation or life? How does what you are saying affect them personally? In short, Why should they care? Unless you develop your presentation to focus on what matters to your audience, you run the real risk of them not paying attention. It isn’t your topic, it is how...

Why you can safely ignore most advice for speakers; Issue #373 September 27, 2016

I regularly see articles with advice for speakers. It could be five things to do, nine things to avoid doing, or some variation on those themes. You probably see these articles too. You can safely ignore almost all of this advice. Let me explain why. The problem with these articles is that they don’t apply to the vast majority of presenters. These articles are written for professional speakers who give inspirational keynote presentations to audiences in ballrooms. If you see words such as: stage, AV crew, lighting, crowd, microphone, or sponsors in an article, the advice doesn’t apply to you. I would guess that 95+% of all presentations given each day are by business professionals whose primary job is not speaking, but providing service to their organization and clients. They are not presenting on a stage in front of a large crowd. They are presenting to a few people in a meeting room trying to convince them to take a specific action. The context is totally different to a professional speaker. Here are three specific differences that make most of the advice for professional speakers invalid for business professionals who deliver presentations. Goal: A professional speaker is there to inspire the crowd, make them feel good, and have an enjoyable time. There is not a specific action that the entire crowd needs to agree to move forward with. A business professional needs to communicate a clear message that results in action by the small group they are speaking to. When these articles talk about using inspirational stories and full screen images, ignore that advice. Setting: The professional speaker is...

Headline template for result of analysis; Issue #372 September 13, 2016

In almost every customized workshop I do, writing headlines for slides is the single idea that people say will help them the most and the one they can start implementing immediately. In this article I want to share a template to guide writing a headline for a slide that presents the result of some analysis you have done. I believe that writing a headline for each slide in your presentation is critical. A headline summarizes the single point you want the audience to remember from that slide. It is much better than the typical slide title that is often just the topic, but no indication of what you want the audience to know about that topic. Because many of my workshops are for professionals who deal with financial, operational, marketing, or other data, many of the slides I see involve presenting the result of the analysis of data. To help these professionals make sure each slide has a meaningful headline, I created a template to guide the creation of the headline. The template is as follows: Option A: <Analyzed item/area/data> <Verb> <Conclusion> Option B: <Conclusion> <Verb> <Analyzed item/area/data> Let’s look at the two key components of the template. The first key component is stating what area, item, data, issue, etc. you were analyzing. This part is important because you have to make sure that the audience has the context for understanding the importance of the conclusion. The second key part states the conclusion or result of your analysis. I believe it is important to state the conclusion up front at the top of the slide so the audience knows where...

Download free Timelines & Calendars; Issue #371 August 30, 2016

One of the categories of messages that I discuss in my book Select Effective Visuals is a relationship over time. Whenever you are creating a visual that represents time periods, it is important that the time periods be accurately represented. If the time periods, such as months, are not all the same size, it can result in the audience misinterpreting the message you want to communicate. In the past, I taught how to use the Align and Distribute functions in PowerPoint to create a properly spaced timeline. You can see these techniques in this video. Now I teach how to create timelines using a table, since it is much easier. Tables automatically distribute the columns evenly. If you ever accidentally move a column divider, there is a button on the Table Tools Layout ribbon that allows you to quickly distribute the columns evenly again. I am always looking for ways to make creating effective visuals easy for presenters. In my customized workshops I often hear that presenters use a slide full of text or a spreadsheet because they think it will take too long to create a visual. Once they find out how to create effective visuals quickly and easily, they choose visuals over the text or spreadsheet. Earlier this year I realized that I could help make using timelines and calendars easier for presenters. I have created three files of pre-made slides that save you the time of creating timelines and calendars on your own. Each visual is built using a table, so it is easy to use and fix if you accidentally mess it up. Each file contains...

Showing performance compared to past and budget; Slide Makeover #85

When presenters communicate current performance compared to past and expected performance, it often results in a table of numbers that the audience has to figure out. This slide makeover shows how you can use a particular type of graph that visually shows the comparison. You can also watch this slide makeover directly on...

Save time with Custom Shows; Issue #370 August 16, 2016

One question has been raised in a number of my custom workshops recently so I thought I’d share it and the answer with all of my subscribers. The question is in regards to presenting the same topic to different audiences: audiences that may have different roles, may have different knowledge levels, or may need to know different levels of detail about the topic. Is there a way to not have to create a new presentation for every audience? The answer for many situations is Yes. Before I get to the solution that works in many cases, let me review what presenters tell me are the advantages and disadvantages of creating a new presentation every time. The main advantage is that it allows you to make sure you focus on the goal and content for each audience without taking any shortcuts. Often this advantage is outweighed by the disadvantages of the time it takes to create each presentation, keeping all the different versions straight so you use the correct one, and the duplication of effort when a slide needs to be updated. Because of these disadvantages, presenters are looking for a simpler, easier way. For as long as I can remember, PowerPoint has included a feature called Custom Show. This feature allows you to create and name a custom show that contains some of the slides in the file, arranged in whatever order you want. This overcomes many of the disadvantages of separate presentations. When one slide is updated, it is automatically updated in all custom shows, since they use the current version of each slide when displaying the show. Because you can name...

Index line graph instead of dual-axis graph; Issue #369 August 2, 2016

I have written about the problems with dual axis graphs in the past. One situation where some presenters say dual axis graphs are necessary is when the two data series being compared are measured in very different units. In this case, they say that you need a dual axis graph because the measurement units aren’t the same. I dealt with this situation recently in one of my customized workshops and I think there is a better alternative to a dual axis graph, even if the measurement units are different. A dual axis graph can still be a problem because the two axes can be manipulated to tell very different stories. Let’s consider the situation where we want to show the trend in unit sales and in revenue for a division in an organization. This is a classic case where many presenters would use a dual axis graph because one series is measured in units and the other series is measured in dollars. Here is what a presenter would typically show, using the default axes PowerPoint uses for the data values in each series: The problem is that a presenter can manipulate one axis (or both axes) to make the visual tell a very different story. For example, if we change the scale of the Revenue axis to start at zero, here is the graph we get: Now it looks like the revenue has not been growing much as units sold have increased dramatically. This is not necessarily the case. You have to do a lot of analysis as an audience member to figure out the true story. A better visual...

Using the Snipping Tool for screen captures; Issue #368 July 19, 2016

Certain topics in presentations benefit from being illustrated with screen captures. If you are showing how to use a system or website, a screen capture is a great visual to use. Adding callouts to screen captures can make explaining the step-by-step process much easier than a series of bullet points. While there are specialized screen captures programs available, a great utility has been built into Windows since Windows 7. It is called the Snipping Tool. It allows you to draw a rectangle around the section of the screen you want to capture. Once captured, you can copy the image for pasting into your presentation, or save the image to a file for later usage. If you will also need the image for a website or article, or you want to capture a series of images for usage later, save the captures to your computer. The one challenge with using the Snipping Tool is that some programs close menus or options when you go to use the Snipping Tool. For example, in the latest version of PowerPoint, if I click on the “+” sign beside a graph to add or modify an element of the graph, this menu closes when I leave PowerPoint to use the Snipping Tool. I recently needed to capture one of these types of menus and discovered a useful option in the Snipping Tool. In addition to the basic capture, which allows you to capture what is on the screen right now, the Snipping Tool allows you to delay for up to five seconds before you draw the capture rectangle. Here’s how this can be used....