By Geoffrey Moss
Marred by errors
Recently I attended a presentation by a famous scientist. It promised to be an interesting motivational address, but was marred by several errors which could have been easily avoided if there had been a little more preparation and rehearsal.
First, the chairman’s introduction was weak. He took the audience’s knowledge of the speaker for granted and failed to stress the background of such a famous speaker. Next he failed to tell them what they could learn from listening to the presentation.
The chairman's role
The role of a chairman, when introducing a speaker, is to raise the interest level of the audience and to prepare them to receive the speaker. His job is to remind the audience why the speaker is an authority on the particular subject and why the topic is important to them.
The chairman should have been given background notes for the introduction and the best person to prepare these notes would have been the speaker himself. The speaker had a good personality, and was very relaxed and chatted to his audience. They were enthralled with his anecdotes and were obviously motivated by his message. But when it came to his visual aids to illustrate his research results he made several basic mistakes.
His slides were too cluttered and some of the letters and figures were too small and difficult to read. Often when people prepare their Power Point presentation on their laptop it looks fine in their office. But when it is projected on to a large screen in an auditorium where there is often too much light, people at the back of the room are unable to read the writing or see the figures.
His colour combinations also left a lot to be desired. You should not use black lettering on a red background if you want a large audience to read it easily. Keep to the basic colours such as black or blue lettering on a white, yellow, or light blue background. White lettering on a dark blue background is also suitable.
You need strong contrasting colours and big letters so everyone can see the message. And don’t forget many men are colour-blind so avoid red and green lettering. The rule is to keep lettering simple and use bold colours when using visual aids.
Too much data
His second mistake was to present too much data on the screen for some of his research results. This is a very common mistake. Power Point presentations should be used only for headings or for presenting key points or illustrations. Data is best illustrated with graphs or bar charts or better still, give a handout. If you want to present a memorable message for people to take away, don’t bore them with long lists of figures or complex charts.
Another mistake was not to have had a rehearsal with his equipment. When he started to call up his slides, using a wireless mouse, we were able to see the other data he had on his removable disc drive. This proved very frustrating for both the speaker and the audience.
The fundamental principles when making a presentation are:
- Every person in the audience must be able to see and to hear the speaker clearly.
- They must be able to hear the questions from the floor.
- They must be able to see and understand the visual aids.
- Ask yourself “Why am I giving this presentation? “What action do I want my audience to take? Write down your objective.
- Write out your talk in full.
- Remember it is what people want to know that is important – not what YOU think they want to know.
- Don’t tell them things they already know. Tell them something new!
- Don’t make too many points. Detailed oral presentations become boring and the audience will not remember the main message.
- Use this written version as the basis of a copy for the media, or for a handout, or for a published report.
- Rewrite a second version the way you speak. You can tape record this and listen to it until you remember the sequence of the main points.
- Take a yellow marking pen and pick out your key memory words. Put these on a small card and practise speaking naturally to these headings. This will keep your presentation in a logical sequence and help keep you within you allotted time.
- The only parts of a presentation you need to have fully memorised are your opening remarks to get your audience’s attention and your memorable conclusion.
- The end should be a climax NOT an anticlimax!
- When giving your presentation make it topical and be prepared to make instant changes if necessary.
- Much will depend on the mood of the audience, or on comments made by previous speakers. If you have a flexible presentation you can often improve your message and make it more topical by referring to recent events or breaking news.
- Prepare your visual aids carefully. Use these as your notice boards to show your audience where you are heading and to act as memory joggers for the points you are making.
- People remember what they see longer than spoken words. You will be lucky if your audience remembers 20% of what they hear. But they often remember up to 80% of what they see. That is why you should use visual aids.
- Keep the message on your visual aids simple and concise and your lettering large and bold.
- At the end of your presentation distribute handouts with your business card attached. These should highlight your message and include vital data and copies of important slides.
Preparation is a Sound Investment
Your next presentation will only be as good as the time you put into its preparation. Time spent rehearsing and preparing effective visual aids is a sound investment.
Make Last Minute Checks
If things can go wrong, they will go wrong so always check out your meeting room for temperature, seating arrangements and screen visibility well before you are due to begin your presentation. Always take back-up visual aids such as transparencies just in case your Power Point projection equipment fails.
Don’t Say Too Much
Don’t try to tell your audience too much. Three good points made three times is better than boring your audience with too many details.
Chat to Your Audience
- Smile at them. Tell them something new and don’t be afraid to share your ideas and emotions with them.
- Refrain from reading your written speech – just talk to a few notes if necessary.
To Geoffrey Moss for permission to publish this material. Geoff was my manager and mentor for many years in the NZ Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries.
Geoffrey Moss has been a member of the Wellington Toastmasters Club for over 40 years. Eighty-two editions of his books have been published in 18 countries and in 11 languages. www.mossassociates.co.nz