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Death By PowerPoint

We’ve all sat through long presentations that left us wondering how to get that fraction of our lives back. You know, those “FYI” presentations that are often more self aggrandizing than informative. During this economic downturn, I have seen an increased number of internal company business communications that have made me wonder who the target audience is and “why am I listening to this update?”. I’m often surprised that presentations are delivered without a clear goal in mind and a specific request. “FYI” presentations are sometimes appropriate, but should almost always be at the request of the audience. Presentations should usually have an expectation of action or decision.

Presenters should answer a few questions before they even build their story:

1) Who is the audience for this presentation?
2) What do you want to happen as a result of this presentation?
3) Are the right people in the audience to achieve the goals?
4) What is the action plan if you get your desired result?
5) What are the alternative results if you don’t achieve your goals and what is the action plan
around those?

These 5 questions are the key to a successful presentation. As the story is built you should revisit these questions to ensure that you do not wander from your goal.

One VP of a large networking company that I know told me that if these questions aren’t clearly defined in a presentation he won’t add the presenter to his meeting agenda. He frustrates many people that are looking for “visibility” but I thought it was a great way to protect his, and his meeting attendees, time. This ensures that a group is focused on making decisions but also protects the credibility of the presenters. Think about what you thought of the last “FYI” presentation. Most likely you questioned the focus of the people involved. I know I do.

My friend read the above screed and said that he could tell I’d sat through way to many of these lately and that these guidelines are things that people just know but forget. I disagree. I’ve been coaching people on their presentations and they don’t know to define their goals. Presentations seem to be an end unto themselves rather than the reporting of a situation or project with a request for decision. That’s the problem.

Have you had these experiences? What have you done in your business to guide the right behaviors?

2 comments to Death By PowerPoint

  • Bob

    I’ve had this problem in all of the companies that I’ve worked. One effective way to focus groups is to ensure that there is an agenda and to manage the time for each item closely. One company that I worked at insisted that there was an agenda for every meeting, there was no more than 15 minutes per subject. All subjects required action items. this was a great way to ensure that meetings are productive and that they move the business forward. I’ve found that presentations often become a crutch to avoid real work.

  • When defining the audience, you need to determine if your presentation will use inductive reasoning or deductive. With executives, a good approach is the inductive format, since you will highlight your thesis and lead the audience as to why it is needed or is of value. You should also limit your presentation to 10 slides, if you need more then more then likely you are giving a training versus a presentation Yes, there will be the engineering slides or the project commits, that will go on for 30 slides, but these are more reviews and not presentations – let’s not confuse them as they are different.

    By keeping your slides to 10, front-loading your proposal and closing with your ask, your audience will first appreciate that you considered their time and you have provided them with enough facts to come to a decision on if they will meet your ask or if it warrants additional analysis.

    Last thing, keep it simple – just because powerpoint has transitions, bells and whistles, they are a distraction from your content so save them a class reunion presentation…

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