In my customized workshops I share that we need to have a fundamental shift in philosophy when it comes to creating presentations. When I ask someone why they have done something a certain way in their presentation, the answer I almost always get is, “We’ve always done it that way.” I don’t think that approach is good enough.
I think we need to move to an approach of deliberate decisions. There should be a specific reason for the way we have done everything in our presentations. This shift in philosophy questions everything and makes us think about why certain content, visuals, and techniques will be effective for this presentation. It gives us more confidence that what we create is the best it can be. Here are some examples of this shift in philosophy.
When I ask presenters how they start preparing a new presentation, almost everyone says they start by grabbing slides from their own and their colleagues’ previous presentations. The deliberate decision approach starts with a structured plan for the presentations. Following the GPS approach I outline in my book GPS for Presentations, presenters create a plan for every piece of content and they understand how each point will move the audience to the goal they have set for that presentation.
Data dump slides are more and more common. Presenters do this because they have been told that you should give the decision makers all the data so the executives can figure out the conclusion for themselves. The deliberate decision approach determines the insight from the analysis and presents that action-oriented insight instead of the data dump.
Information overload is the single biggest issue in presentations today. Presenters regularly tell me they include all the data on the slide in case the audience has questions about any aspect of what they have done. The deliberate decision approach decides on the key information needed to communicate the message, and shifts the additional data to hidden slides that can be easily accessed by hyperlinks if the question gets asked.
Presenters often use the top of the slide to state the section of the presentation they are in, using a few words as a title because that is what they have always been told to do. The deliberate decision approach considers the top of the slide the most important area of the slide. Presenters write a headline for every slide that summarizes the message of that slide so the audience clearly knows what the presenter wants them to understand.
I often hear that the reason so many presentations consist of slides filled with bullet points is that business and technical professionals aren’t designers, so they use what PowerPoint says to do: Click here to enter bullet points. The deliberate decision approach looks for a way to determine the best visual for each message. My book Select Effective Visuals offers a method that breaks messages down into six categories, 30 groups and sub-groups, and 66 individual visuals. Presenters don’t have to be designers, they just need an approach they can follow that works.
There are many other ways this shift in philosophy impacts the way you create your presentations. I encourage you to embrace the deliberate decision approach and think about every aspect of your presentation differently. The result will be more effective presentations that you will be more confident delivering.
Dave Paradi has over twenty years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written nine books and over 100 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don’t overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of less than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel and PowerPoint communities. He regularly presents highly rated sessions at national and regional conferences of financial professionals.