Presentation Advice From Jack the Ripper's Walk

During a trip to London with my family, I had the pleasure of participating in what's known as a Jack the Ripper walk.

At a designated spot overlooking the Tower of London, we met our affable Cockney guide, Pete. He was a character, our Pete, and he would have looked out of place in most boardrooms, training rooms and classrooms.

But the communication skills he demonstrated were exceptional, and should be envied and emulated by anyone who has to prepare and deliver presentations to others. We can all learn from “our Pete.”

wall in london separating east from west
Pete used statistics sparingly
After he gathered his flock, he led us to our first stop—the remains of the old Roman wall that has traditionally divided London's east-enders from the rest of the city. "In 1888, half the children born on the east side of this wall didn't survive until their first birthday," Pete told us. "It was said that, for every 100 yards you traveled east, life expectancy dropped by a year."

I’ve often said that statistics should be to presentations as spice is to a meal—used sparingly.

Pete told stories well
To illustrate his love of history, he told us a story of traveling to Hadrian's Wall as a school boy. (Hadrian's Wall is the roman wall that has traditionally separated England from Scotland.)

It was not a pleasant field trip, Pete informed us. It was raining. It was cold. He was miserable.

He was walking along the wall when he came to some Latin graffiti scratched into its side. He got out a piece of paper and his pencil, and rubbed the inscription so he could bring it to his Latin teacher.

When the Latin teacher read the inscription, he smiled. "You didn't enjoy yourself at Hadrian's Wall, did you," the teacher said. "No, sir," Pete replied.

"Apparently a man named Devinius wasn't enjoying himself either."

Pete clearly stated outcomes up front
Within a minute or two of gathering us together, Pete told us he hoped we would gain two two things. First, he wanted us to learn more about life in late 19-century London, the city of his birth. Second, he wanted us to better understand why he’s so proud to call London his home.

We gained both, in spades.

Pete knew that pausing is important for him and us
Pete paused to think before speaking. This enabled him to choose his words carefully so that each word out of his mouth added value.

Pete paused after he spoke. This allowed us to think about what he’d just said. He allowed us to process one thought before giving us another. He didn’t try to overload us with information. The entire presentation was two-way and receiver-driven, while adhering to the principle of “less is more.”

Pete used visuals sparingly, and well
When he brought us to a new location, he would introduce it and give us time to look at it. “This is not where one of the murders happened,” he told us in one case. “But if we went there now, you’d all be disappointed because it’s a parking lot. This is what London would have looked like in Jack’s time.”

He would pause to allow us to look around and let our imaginations work. When we started coming back to him, he continued his presentation.

He showed half a dozen pictures from his smartphone for emphasis. But again, he would tell us what we were going to see, then showed it. When he showed the picture, he moved the phone from person to person around the group, letting us absorb it. During those times, he never said a word.

Pete answered questions clearly and concisely
While he was always polite, he thankfully kept his answers short. This enabled many of us to ask a lot of questions. We learned from each other’s curiosity, which only added to the educational experience for everyone.

Pete demonstrated excellent presentation and communication skills. He provided lessons of value that could be applied to every boardroom, training room, meeting room, conference hall and lecture hall on the planet.

So, if you’re ever in London, look up our Pete and join him on his walk.

For the price of a movie ticket and pop, you’ll gain insight into parts of London that most people don’t see. You’ll begin to share Pete’s love for his city.

And, if you watch Pete at work, you’ll gain insight into communicating effectively with others during all types of presentations from one of the most unlikely but effective of sources.

_________________________

Eric Bergman, BPA, ABC, APR, MC, FCPRS
eric bergman, presentation skills consultant
Eric Bergman has been a communications professional for 35 years. He wrote his first speech for a senior executive during the summer of 1982, while working as a government public affairs officer, and has been a self-employed communication consultant since 1985. For more than 25 years, half of his core business has been helping his clients shape their stories and tell them effectively. He has provided presentation skills training and executive presentation coaching to clients from five continents.

(The other half of his business is media training.)

Eric holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies from Athabasca University and a two-year diploma in advertising and public relations from Grant MacEwan College. He is an accredited business communicator (ABC), an accredited public relations practitioner (APR) and a master communicator (MC), which is the highest distinction that can be bestowed on a Canadian member of the International Association of Business Communicators. He is also a member of the College of Fellows of the Canadian Public Relations Society (FCPRS).

If communicating effectively is important to your success (and/or the success of your organization), contact Eric for assistance.

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Even More Bad New for Slideware Users

Bored audience
A study conducted at the University of Munich has confirmed the results of two previous studies I’ve written about—a study from Purdue and another from the University of Barcelona.

And the news is truly bad for the 30 to 40 million slide-driven presentations, lectures, workshops, seminars, and training programs delivered worldwide each day.

If slides are your crutch, it’s bad news for you, too.

There is now absolutely no question that your audience misses large portions of what you say when you show your slides and talk at the same time.

The Munich study confirmed that “the retention of oral information was significantly lower in the condition with regular slides than in the condition without slides.”

Of course, if you believe that what the presenter says isn’t important, perhaps it makes no difference. But there is a critical question to ask of those who believe the presenter isn’t absolutely essential to every effective presentation: If what the presenter says isn’t important, why is she or he taking up our time in the first place?

In another objection to the research, some might ask: “If the audience loses a large portion of what’s said, isn’t there an offsetting gain by showing the slides?”

According to the researchers, the answer is no.

munich sample slides.002
“It is remarkable, however, that this ‘suppressive’ effect of regular slides,” they said, “could not be demonstrated to be the downside of a trade-off in favour of the retention of information on slides.”

In other words, if you use what the researchers called “regular” slides in your presentation (like the one to the right), your audience is going to miss large portions of what you say, no matter how well you say it or how hard they struggle to absorb it.

Logically, this would apply even more to charts and graphs, which require more reading and more concentration to decipher than the regular slide shown here.

And there is no question that what you lose by asking your audience to read and listen at the same time is not regained in any way by showing your slides.

Regular Slides vs Concise Slides
munich sample slides.001
The researchers also tested the retention and understanding of presentations using what they called concise slides.

The regular slide format contained a total of 12 slides: a title slide; a structural slide; and 10 additional slides. No slide in this series contained more than eight lines (excluding the heading) or six bullet points.

Conversely, concise slides used six slides to explain the same information: a title slide, a structural slide; and four additional slides. The researchers also used “black” slides between the regular slides. No slide in this series contained more than seven lines (excluding the heading) or five bullet points.

While their research confirmed that the “retention of oral information is higher with concise slides or without slides than with regular slides,” they could not state that the overall retention of concise slides was any better than not using slides at all.

The Bottom Line
In
5 Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’, the third step is: “Minimize visual aids.” I am 100 per cent confident that the research from Purdue, Barcelona and Munich supports the logic of that suggestion.

There are three things to keep in mind when minimizing visual aids, two of which were dealt with directly in the research.

First, to enhance your success, you must absolutely minimize the information on slides if you cannot overcome your PowerPoint addiction and eliminate them altogether (or only use one or two where needed). If your slides look like the regular slide shown here, turn off the projector, use your slides as notes (visible to you, but not to the audience), and talk to your audience.

Second, you must absolutely minimize the number of slides you use. As the researchers demonstrated, by cutting the number of content slides by 60 per cent, and by using blank slides between content slides, retention of information increased.

There is a simple test to determine this. If someone can read your slides and understand your presentation, you have too many slides and too much on each slide.

Third, don’t be afraid to use other visual aids. Whiteboards, flip charts, blackboards and pieces of paper are not only excellent visual aids, they are not slides. Each one is a different tool; each one has a different purpose.

Finally, don’t be afraid to turn off the projector and talk to your audience. If you believe that what you say is important, the research is clear:

Simply talking to your audience, while minimizing your visual aids, is absolutely the best way to be heard, understood and remembered.

LinkedIn & Amazon Eliminate Slide-Driven Presentations

Two of the business world’s top CEOs—Jeff Bezos at Amazon and Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn—have eliminated slide-driven presentations from their meetings.

Jeff Bezos says banning powerpoint saves time
During an interview with Charlie Rose, Amazon.com’s CEO talked about why he would take such a seemingly radical step, which not only includes eliminating projected presentations but printed decks as well.

“All of our meetings are structured around six-page memos,” Bezos says, pointing out that this also eliminates bullet points. “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.”

Bezos believes that slides make it easy for the presenter but difficult for the audience. As a result, his meetings may start with up to 30 minutes of silence while everyone reads the documents.

The result of separating the written word from the spoken word? “It saves a lot of time,” he points out.

In a blog post, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner points out that “at LinkedIn, we have essentially eliminated the presentation.” Information is sent 24 hours in advance, giving people an opportunity to review it. However, not everyone can find the time, so five to 10 minutes is set aside at the start of the meeting to give everyone time to review the written document.

"Once folks have completed the reading, it’s time to open it up for discussion,” Weiner writes. “There is no presentation.”

Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn talks about eliminating PowerPoint
The benefit? “You may be pleasantly surprised to see a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is actually over after 20-30 minutes.”

Are these leaders are on the right track? Absolutely. Cognitive science tells us that humans cannot read and listen at the same time. In fact, trying to do both is absolutely the least effective option and a virtual waste of time—terrible news for the “average” slide-driven presentation delivered in boardrooms, meeting rooms, training rooms and conference halls.

Organizations that wish to regain lost productivity, and to communicate most effectively to make the best decisions, should learn to separate the written word from the spoken word. There is a time to read and a time to discuss. For best results, those times should never, ever be the same time.

Let’s hope more leaders have the courage to follow suit.

Physicists Ban Slides. Can Others Can Learn From Their Experiment?

According to a recent article in Symmetry magazine, a group of physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider project at Fermilab has banned the use of slides at biweekly meetings in favour of whiteboards.

Ban on PowerPoint enhances communication
The move came as a direct result of the project’s leadership seeking ways to enhance engagement from the audience who, until that time, was like every other audience trying to follow a series of slides.

The result of the ban? The physicists say the move has led to more “interaction and curiosity,” made it easier for the group to discuss the project’s “ongoing work and future goals,” and enhanced the connection between speaker and audience to improve decision-making.

Are there lessons here that can apply to others?

Absolutely:

  • As I’ve written before, Amazon and LinkedIn have banned slide-driven presentations at their meetings, resulting in enhanced productivity and improved decision-making.
  • I have long believed that boards of directors should ban slideware presentations at their meetings to achieve the same results: save time and enhance the overall quality of decisions made.
  • Most conference organizers I know would like to enhance engagement. It’s a bold move, but banning slides (not just PowerPoint, but Keynote, Prezi, SlideRocket, Haiku Deck and others) would force speakers to use a variety of tools that lead to greater engagement.
  • A recent Gallup survey indicated that only 30 per cent of employees are engaged. Fewer than one in three! Care to make a wager on how most of those employees receive information from their leaders? What has an organization got to lose by banning slides at internal meetings?
  • Planning a sales meeting? Why not ban slides? The sales force undoubtedly has knowledge to contribute. Like the physicists, if the sales force was more engaged, wouldn’t the group benefit from the collective experience of others?
The list goes on.

It takes courage to implement a ban. But it appears that those organizations who do are gaining significant benefits as a result.

Shauna Overcomes Her Slide Addiction

I had a fascinating experience last fall that underscored everything I’ve believed about how using slides kills interactivity and audience engagement—and that by simply shutting off the projector you can reverse those negative outcomes.

Smiling presenter addresses man raisin his hand
I was the scheduled keynote speaker at an evening forum for aspiring professional engineers sponsored by a chapter of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO). After my hour, a speaker from PEO headquarters was scheduled to spend about 40 minutes talking about the steps required to achieve the professional engineering (P.Eng.) designation.

The title of my presentation was: Cognitive Science + Common Sense = Effective Presentations. Once I showed a short video during the first part of my presentation—to demonstrate that humans cannot read and listen at the same time—I shut the projector off.

During the lull between my presentation and the next one, the speaker (we’ll call her Shauna) started up the projector, attached her laptop, and began loading her presentation.

Watching this on-screen, one of the participants commented: “Wow, look at all the slides! Didn’t you hear anything Eric said during the past hour?”

He said it quietly and politely, but his point was well made. Shauna looked a little lost, so I walked over and quietly said to her: “If you need your slides as notes, use them. But shut the projector off.”

She did shut it off and, shortly after she started her presentation, an interesting thing happened. The group began asking questions. And they didn’t just ask questions, they fired them at her.

“I’ve just changed jobs,” one person said. “What information do I need from my previous employer? Is there anything different I need from my current employer?”

“I’ve just been laid off,” another said. “How will that affect my path to becoming licensed? Can I get an extension if I need it?”

On it went. Shauna was easily asked more than 50 or 60 questions, which helped audience members shape the licensing information to their particular circumstance, which is when communication actually works.

After the presentation, I asked Shauna if this was more questions than she normally receives. “Definitely,” she replied. “In fact, it’s more questions in one evening than I’ve received in the dozens of times I’ve delivered this presentation combined.”

I also talked to a few aspiring engineers at the end of the evening. They told me they got great value from the presentation. They already knew the path to licensure. The interaction gave them the opportunity to relate that path to their specific circumstances.

And that is when face-to-face communication actually works.

So, if you want to improve your next presentation, why not learn from Shauna’s experience? Shut off the projector and use your slides as your notes.

Create an interactive exchange that has structure for you, but ultimately provides more value to them.

After all, aren’t they the most important people in the room?

Bad News for Slideware Users

PowerPoint causes students to fall asleep during presentations
Researchers at Purdue University have some bad news for the 40 million people worldwide who deliver “standard” slide-driven presentations each and every day.

When slides are used, the researchers concluded, the audience retains nearly 30 per cent less than if presenters eliminate PowerPoint and simply talk to their audience.

In other words,
by simply turning off your projector and using your slides as notes, you can significantly enhance your communication effectiveness.

Two Styles of Lectures
The researchers conducted their study as part of a course entitled “Human Factors in Engineering” that was delivered to students from four majors—engineering, humanities, management and technology. The course was attended by both undergraduate and graduate students and was taught three times a week for 16 weeks.

There were two separate streams of classes for the course, which was based on the textbook Human Factors in Simple and Complex Systems.

For two lectures, two distinctly different delivery styles were used—one that showed slides during the lecture and one that did not.

Researchers then used a 20-question quiz to test students’ ability to recall information in four categories: oral information presented during lectures, graphic information presented during lectures, alphanumeric information from the lectures, and information presented orally with visual support.

The Negative Affect of Slides
The researchers’ first hypothesis was that PowerPoint would have a negative effect on what was said during the lecture—that it would be more difficult for the audience to listen to the presenter while slides are shown.

And there is no question this is true. Students who didn't see slides during the lecture scored 29 per cent higher on the quiz in recalling oral information, and achieved higher overall scores with the recall of all information. “The presence of PowerPoint negatively affected the recall of auditory information,” the researchers concluded, adding that “graphic scores reveal there was no notable gain when using PowerPoint to display graphic information.

“The same could be said for alphanumeric information. There was no notable gain for using PowerPoint vs. the chalkboard.”

Ever spent hours putting a slide together? According to this research, that effort was virtually a complete waste of time.

But the news gets even worse for habitual users of all slideware programs. In addition to testing lectures with and without slides, the researchers also tested those people who didn’t attend class at all during the two lectures in which the comparison was made. Unbelievably, those who didn’t attend either lecture “heard” more than those who attended the slide-driven lecture.

“The negative affect that PowerPoint has on the retention of auditory information is similar to not attending class and hearing the information at all,” the researchers wrote in their conclusions.

In other words, if you use slides, your audience is better off reading your slides and skipping the meeting, webinar, training session or conference at which those slides were presented. They’ll understand and retain more.

Fortunately, if understanding and retention are important to your business success, you can enhance both with one simple action:

Turn off the projector, or close the deck,
and simply talk to your audience.