Presentations, are defined as the simplest collection of ideas that help persuade, inform or motivate people (Stevenson, 2002, p. 3). In the past, presentations were simply concerned with a monotonous display of bullet-point lists, to convey the speakers train of thoughts. Today, technology has encouraged a broad variety of presentation mediums: standalone presentations on the Web, loop presentations to show repeatedly at trade show booths, burning of CDs of a presentation to distribute to a wide audience, adding of sound, animation, and even video to the slides (Stevenson, 2002, p.
3). The purpose of this paper is to outline what marks the difference between an outstanding, and a mediocre presentation, and to analyze the critical factors that go in the making of one. The term outstanding doesnt really convey the right impression since the overall aim of effort applied in making a presentation, is to achieve some sort of desired result. For this, we shall use the term winning presentation for our remaining discussion. The desired result examples can be as follows (Stevenson, 2002, p.
3): 1) Outlining of timeline and deliverables of the product launch to the manufacturing team. 2) Teaching the sales force about the feature and benefit of the new product so that they can sell better. 3) To make a business case for the potential market for the new product to gain financing from investors. 4) To introduce new products to customers. So, what makes a presentation mediocre? Different communication experts have their own opinions drawn from personal experience.
But, for the sake of all-inclusivity, we shall outline the most typical characteristics of mediocre presentations that not only fail to produce results, but are commonly labeled dull, dry and boring- no euphemism required for a situation where the audience is compelled to doze off because the presentation failed to capture their interest. ANR Communication Services at the University of California, have outlined Seven Deadly Sins of PowerPoint presentations (ANR, 2006): 1) Length: It is not necessary to utilize the whole time allotted, in fact the winning presentation should always aim at delivering a message as fast as possible.
The common refrain is that some speakers tend to warm-up with a windy introduction that noone bothers to pay attention to. It is always advisable to hit bottom-line directly, and come straight to the point. 2) Bad visuals: Bad visuals come in several categories, but their general definition lies in a sheer ignorance of aesthetics. E. g. using elaborate graphics which have no connection to the subject matter, and were included just in order to cast an impression of technical know-how. Other examples are sandwiching too much information in very little space, and using illegible fonts against an atrocious background.
Other sins are: 3) Not sticking to the main point: Too many speakers have a habit of digressing from the subject, and beating around the bush, an exercise that can be really testing on the audiences patience, and defeat any chances of success with the presentation. 4) Too many numbers: Even technical presentations can do better without an overdose of figures and numbers. It is a common misconception for many people, that a bombardment of numeric data using charts and graphs would illustrate the monumental effort they put in, in order to create the presentation.
Charts and graphs, and figures are meant to support some conclusion, but in no way should they be the only reason for the presentation to exist. 5) Technical failure: Too many presentations have been ruined due to glitches such as the Projector not working (that too after spending considerable time in making one presentation). It is always advisable to double-check before final show. 6) Not summarizing: If the presentation fails to summarize the key points discussed, the entire purpose is defeated because audience memory is short.
The speaker needs to tell the audience what was the underlying conclusion for them having met. 7) Inadequate rehearsal: This goes with Point no. 1 and 6. Other useful ideas worth mentioning are David Peoples recollections from interactions with IBM executives (People, 1992, p. 20): 1) Showing information, and then apologizing in advance it conveys the impression that the speaker is not confident about the subject matter, and kills the very purpose of presentation. 2) Not explaining any reason why the subject has any value to the audience such an act can convey a total disregard for audience time.
In order to round up our discussion on mediocre presentations, it is important to mention common technical characteristics of such presentations (OneVision UK, 2004): 1) Slide transitions and sound effects; when unnecessary they can become a pain in the neck for they divert the focus of the audience from the central theme. 2) Standard Clip-Art which shows a clear lack of creativity on behalf of the presenter who could have done better by including more relevant graphics. 3) Presentation templates unless there is no other alternative, these should be best avoided.
4) Reading the presentation a speaker should have extempore communication skills, otherwise the presentation can be very boring. A winning presentation does not repeat the common fallacies mentioned for mediocre presentations as above. Also, a winning presentation has a persuasive style that impresses with its tone, content, representation and output (People, 1992, p. 45). To tell the difference between the two, Tom Sant from the American Management Association, reviews the scope and utility of a winning presentation, which should take into account the following considerations (Sant, 2004, p.12): 1) It is not a blind price quote. 2) It is not a bill of materials, project plan or scope of work. 3) It is not about the history of a product. The watchword, here is influencing of client (Sant, 2004, p. 17).
Each time a presentation is made, the objective is in terms of thinking about the long-term influence that the presentation will have on the client, something that requires a lot of introspection on part of the presenter. Thus, presentations should be looked at as tools and opportunities (Sant, 2004, p. 17) rather than a summary judgment on a particular subject.
Having clarified the differences between the two types of presentations, we shall look into the key ingredients of winning presentations. Structurally, a winning presentation comprises of two parts: the formal (one-way) episode followed by a question and answer session (two-way) (Gilchrist & Davies, 1996, p. 3). As a bench rule, the presenter must allow at least 3 times the time allotted for one-way communication. This time is utilized for discussions, development of conceptual ideas, generating feedback, and general brainstorming.
Also, a competent presenter is able to perform well in three areas of communication (Gilchrist & Davies, 1996, p. 5): 1) Non-verbal i. e. body-language. 2) Verbal i. e. fluency of language and intonation. 3) Visual i. e. computer screens, slides and paper-based accompaniments. A competent presenter must have enough behavioral science knowledge so that he is able to control the crowd, in case a heated argument is generated. Contentwise, a winning presentation offers ample room for independent thinking, and allows plenty of flexibility in terms of omissions and adjustments.
The objective is, that the presentation must flow in terms of ideas, an exercise that builds continuous credibility for the presenter (Sant, 2004, p. 29). Thomas Leech, at the American Management Association, has identified the following guidelines to delivering a winning presentation, which he calls fundamental keys (Leech, 2004, p. 11): 1) Prior preparation: According to several top-key executives, the biggest blunder a presenter makes when he declares that he didnt prepare well. 2) Self-belief: It is important to convey sincerity and honesty through the effort made.
3) Knowing ones purpose the bottom-line. 4) Having a focused central theme: The audience came with a purpose. It is important to shell out the central theme at the very start of the presentation, so that people are able to develop connections. 5) Knowing your audience and tailoring the presentation according to their needs: A presentation has to be varied depending upon the possible expectations of audience. Also, age-groups have to be taken into account. Other fundamental keys are: 6) Early summarizing for time-pressed audience.
7) Reinforcement of central belief: The central theme should be backed up with substantial evidence, to make the presentation idea seem rock-solid. 8) Visual effects: It is important to ensure that visuals add, and not blur presentations. 9) Consider Murphys Law: This is what happens in real-life scenarios. According to Murphys First Law, if anything can go wrong, it will! So, its always advisable not to take chances with defective areas of presentation. 10) Making the delivery personal and passionate: A competent presenter is always able to connect with the audience.
Instead of begging the question, he tries to convince the soundness of his ideas through passionate and compelling discussions, the most successful ingredient of winning presentations. That was presentation, but from a preparation point of view, a successful PowerPoint presentation must undergo a preliminary review, keeping following things in mind (Negrino, 2005, p. 9-107): 1) Writing the presentation: It is always advisable to start with an outline of the entire content, and using features like the Research Pane to make slides.
2) Gathering images and sound files: The graphics and animation part should be done, avoiding the loopholes mentioned in mediocre presentations. 3) Picking a design: It is important to pick a slide design, apply the layouts, and adjust text location for aesthetic appeal. Other attributes are: 4) Working with text: Editing slide text, formatting slide text (font, color, etc. ), aligning slide text (left, center, justified), changing line space (again it depends on aesthetic requirements.), using numbered (bulleted) lists, adding hyperlinks and text-boxes, 5)
Illustrating the presentation: This involves adding images, clip art, using the drawing tools, adding relevant diagrams, charts, tables etc. 6) Making it move: This envisages adjustments in slide order, setting slide transitions, adding custom animation and summarize slide effects. 7) Preparation: The presentation should always be reviewed by a colleague, especially if its very important. It is useful to make printed notes for the speaker, and slides and handouts to the audience.
Summary: On a final note, the weight of a good presentation, apart from key points mentioned in this paper, depend a lot on the individual presenters qualities, what are known as gestures (Arrendondo, 1991, p. 73). It is important to state that appropriate gestures and movements add meaning to a message, and mark the difference between a winning and a mediocre presentation. The gestures should convey a positive energy, and enthusiasm in the subject, and be manifested through the presenters self-belief.