“Audience unfriendly” presentations

October 1, 2010

After a busy day on Wednesday I logged on to the third “Outstanding Presentation Workshops” webinar organised by Ellen Finkelstein. The presenter was Olivia Mitchell from New Zealand who runs the excellent blog on presentations “Speaking about presenting”.

Olivia concentrated on planning presentations and introduced a planning tool that can help speakers to structure their talk. She stressed the importance of planning as a way of avoiding the common problems with presentations which make them “audience unfriendly”.

The main types of  “audience unfriendly” presentations she identified were

“I’m going to tell you everything”

These are presentations where the speaker overwhelms the audience with information by trying to get across too much detail for the time available . In my experience many conference presentations are like this. The speakers have conducted some research and want to give all the details – even though they normally have a very limited time slot. Their presentation is rushed, so the audience hasn’t had time to absorb one point they move on to the next one. They also usually have too much material for the time available and end up missing out material towards the end of their talk and skimming over their conclusions (having spent too long on less important details at the beginning).

The “grab bag”

Here, the talk is unstructured, consisting of points pulled at random from the speaker’s “bag of goodies” – stories, anecdotes etc . The audience may be entertained, but can be left unfulfilled. The talk by Ben Goldacre at BOHS Conference this year was rather like this. He is an excellent speaker and had a lot of interesting stories and examples, but his talk was unstructured. It was clear that he hadn’t properly researched his audience or planned his talk  to make it relevant to us. He seemed to pull out stock stories in a random manner  as he went along, and he clearly hadn’t decided beforehand which he was going to use. Consequently, although his talk was entertaining, and some good points came across, it wasn’t coherent.

The shopping list

This is the classic “death by Powerpoint” presentation consisting of slide after slide of bullets. In this case the presenter probably prepared his talk and filled in the standard Powerpoint template of headings, bullets and sub-bullets. Effectively the talk is an outline which could (perhaps, should is a better word to use) have been further developed.

All of these problems can be avoided by devoting time to planning the presentation.

Olivia advocated the use of a planning tool, to structure the talk and avoid these problems, and more detail on this can be obtained via her blog. I think the tool would work well for many people. It would be particularly useful for those new to presentations but would still be of benefit to many experienced speakers who are unsure how to plan their talks.

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