Change at a pace your audience can handle; Issue #351 November 24, 2015

Many business professionals have regular presentations they deliver. It could be a bi-weekly project update presentation in engineering, it could be the monthly financial summary to management, it could be weekly call center statistics, or it could be a monthly sales update. If you have been delivering this presentation for a while now, you have set expectations with that audience. You need to consider this when making changes to your presentation.

At the end of my workshops, the participants have many changes they want to make to their presentations. They have seen new ways to communicate the key messages visually and they are excited to implement all of their ideas in the next presentation. I caution them not to do so.

Why? Because your audience can’t handle that rapid pace of change. If you show up at the next meeting with a totally different look to your slides, you will likely run into strong opposition because people usually can’t handle a large change all at once. You may be told to go back to the previous look, however ineffective that is, and never make changes again. You will have lost the opportunity to make improvements in the future.

So what will work? What I suggest to my workshop participants is to change no more than 10% of your slides at a time. If there are two new slides in a typical twenty slide presentation, the audience will feel comfortable because most of what they are seeing is familiar. They can handle a change that is small and not drastic. Next time you present, change another two slides. The new slides from the first time are not new any more, so the audience doesn’t perceive it as a large change each time.

Will this approach take a long time to upgrade all the slides in your presentation? Absolutely. If you do monthly presentations, it will take almost a full year! But you are making the changes at a pace that the audience will accept. I think it is more important to get to a better final presentation than it is to push the pace of change that makes the audience uncomfortable and may make them resist your improvements.

If you don’t deliver a regular presentation to the same audience, I still suggest you start small with making improvements to your slides. The first time you start using the new ideas it will take longer to think through and create your presentation. Focus first on improving the look of the slides for your most important ideas. If you don’t get to improve all of the slides, at least you know that the most important points will be delivered using effective visuals.

It is always a delight to see the improvements the participants in my workshops make after we are done. They see how much better the slides are and how much clearer the presentation is. Start small, let the audience get comfortable with the new look at a reasonable pace, and you will enjoy more successful presentations.