We've all been there; politely sitting through a number of conference presentations mentally compiling shopping lists or daydreaming about the summer holidays instead of actually listening.
The topic sounded interesting, and the content is probably useful, but the presentation itself seems to have been made expressly to send us to sleep.
It is a common problem – so how do you avoid being the presenter that sends even the insomniacs to sleep?
Richard Edwards of Quatreus has 'unpicked' 100s of presentations and suggests these are the five sins you need to avoid:
1. Too much text
You are doing the talking – that's what the audience should focus on, not the text on the slides. If you add lots of text to a slide then you are effectively giving your audience a choice: listen to me or read the slide.
Two or three key pieces of information per slide should be your maximum. Also try to put the most important points at the top of the slide – they will be most remembered, and are more visible to people sitting at the back.
2. Messy media
The great thing about presentations is that you can include pictures, sounds, and videos along with some text and use them to support your speech. However, lots of mixed styles, tacky clipart, pointless animations, incongruous sounds etc. actually detract from what you are saying, rather than support it.
Keeping your media consistent will add a level of professionalism to your presentation as well as keeping your audience focused.
3. No end in sight
The best presentations provide the audience with an overview of what you will be talking about, and tell them the order in which you will cover each point. Steve Jobs, arguably one of the best presenters of our time, said that you should only ever focus on the three most important pieces of information the audience needs to know:
• What is it we are talking about? – essentially the overview
• Why is it important to me? – making it relatable and important to the audience
• How will it change my life? – demonstrating the practical application of your subject/product/service
Keep this 'rule of three' in mind when you are preparing your presentation and it will keep you focused, your audience engaged and your presentation memorable.
4. You know your speech, not your subject
The truly magical thing about anything live, whether it be a presentation, a comedy show or a concert, is the uniqueness of the experience. But this is only true if you speak naturally, letting your personality shine through. If you simply parrot a rehearsed speech then you may as well have prerecorded it.
To pull this off successfully it is important that you know your topic and generally what you want to say during your presentation. This allows you to respond to questions naturally and without panicking. It also allows you to speak with a personality and style unique to you, and ultimately, that is what makes a great presentation great.
5. You always fill the silence
There seems to be an assumption that a presentation should contain no silence. However, silence can actually enhance what you are saying.
Silence forces the audience to stop and think about what you just said, taking in the content on the slide and really feeling the message you are trying to convey.
Used appropriately, silence can be one of the most effective tools for keeping your audience engaged and really thinking about what you are saying. As the experts say: "Pause 'till it hurts".
Of course, I am not suggesting that presentations are easy – far from it. But by focusing more on what you will say and how you will say it than what your slides will look like, you will end up with a presentation that is interesting, engaging and memorable.
The quickest way of sending an audience to sleep is simply to dig out your old PowerPoint template file and updating it with tons of text, a smattering of stock imagery and then talking over it. My key piece of advice: ditch the PowerPoint altogether.