Kiss that Frog

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When having to sit through a bad presentation, I usually try to entertain myself by making mental notes of all the mistakes the presenter makes (and take photos of the slides for my collection). But, to be honest, it's more frustrating than amusing; there are so many simple things that presenters could do to make their presentation at least a little better. The complete ignorance of all the available help (books, articles on the web, courses, even plain common sense) just baffles me.

Recently, I had to sit through a two-hour department meeting. As you can expect from presentations in a business context, it was riddled with bullet points and speakers who didn't bother to explain the technical terms and abbreviations they were using. The few graphics that were used were bland, CI-approved and didn't really help in making the points any clearer or stickier.

As you can imagine, I have tried to change people's views before but got stonewalled with the usual excuses. So I'm wondering if I shouldn't start smaller. What's the one thing these people could change in their presentations that would make them at least a little more bearable and memorable?

A Frog?

I remember one slide in particular. It had three items on it (with too much text, as was to be expected). So when the slide came up, I started reading, completely ignoring what the speaker had to say about the first item. The third item mentioned a frog. A Frog? I had to read that again before it began to dawn on me. One of the teams used a piggy bank in the form of a frog to collect "penalties" when someone did something they shouldn't do (I forget the details). I tried to remember if I'd ever seen this frog and what it looked like. All the time, of course, not listening to the speaker who may or may not have been into the second item by that time. I don't even remember what the other items were about; all I could think of was that frog.

There were two other slides that I remember (mostly for their mistakes, not so much for their content): One slide started listing items related to one topic and ended with items about a completely different topic. Why? Probably only because they all happened to be part of the report from that specific department.

In yet another case, the speaker tried the popular workaround of unveiling each item one after the other. When he unveiled the third item on the slide (a bullet point, of course, with a long paragraph of text), he introduced it with the words Now this is important ....

The one recommendation

Can you see the commonalities of these three examples? In each case it would have been better to separate the items and spread them out over several slides (two or three, depending on the example).

So I think the one thing that I'm going to recommend to these speakers is the tried and tested concept of "one idea per slide" (or one concept, topic, report item, etc.). This one change is not going to magically turn the presentation into a Steve-Jobs-style keynote, but it'll help the audience concentrate on what the speaker is talking about and increases the chances that they may actually remember some of it.

This change will also allow the presenter to start thinking about what to do with the extra screen real estate that they gained. Hopefully, they won't use it to add even more text! Instead, they could make the text bigger (in the above context, I'm sure some people in the back of the room had trouble reading the slides) or add (relevant!) visuals. In other words, this one change may very well make them think some more about their presentation and send them down the right path. After all, everybody (including yours truly) had to start somewhere.

(Image Credit: Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) by Brian Gratwicke, from Flickr)

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