After I delivered a presentation to a group of financial services professionals on the importance and value of communicating effectively, an investment advisor who attended the session approached me and struck up a conversation.
"I was fascinated by the part of your presentation where you talked about visual aids getting in the way of the communication process," this advisor told me. "My partner and I proved that to ourselves without a doubt."
He told me that he and his partner have built a significant portion of their business through seminars to clients and prospects. In fact, they have tried to deliver presentations and/or seminars once or twice a week for years, and have the process down to a science.
They keep their seminar topics current and present the information themselves. They carefully select and segment their audience. They know how many prospects their assistants need to contact to fill a seminar (usually kept to less than 30 participants). Based on attendance, they know how many subsequent meetings they should book and how many new accounts they should open as a result of every seminar they conduct.
This worked well until the partner had an idea. "About 10 to 12 years ago, my partner said that, if we wanted to have a modern, professional presentation that people would take seriously, we should use overheads," the advisor said. "I agreed to go along, but a number of conditions had to be met."
The first condition was that that they would take the time to carefully prepare their presentation. Next, they would practice it until they were comfortable with it before delivering it to prospects. Finally, they would deliver their updated presentation for an eight-week period, after which they would measure the results.
They carefully prepared the presentation, rehearsed it, then delivered it once or twice a week for eight weeks. They were surprised when they measured the results.
"Based on the number of people attending, bookings for face-to-face meetings dropped by 25 per cent during the eight-week period in question," he said. "As soon as we went back to the 'old' way of telling stories and drawing pictures on flipcharts, our numbers immediately went back up."
The numbers stayed up until his partner had another idea. Five or six years ago, his partner said that everyone was using computer-generated visual aids and that, to be taken seriously, they needed to change the way they delivered their seminars.
The same conditions were imposed. This time, however, they practiced their presentation even more before unleashing it on prospects.
"During the eight-week period in which we used (computer-generated visual aids), our bookings for follow-up meetings with prospects dropped by 50 per cent," the advisor told me. "Again, when we went back to a simple approach, those numbers went back up and have stayed up since."
Is this a coincidence? I don't think so. During the past 15-plus years, I have asked more than 20,000 people at my presentation skills workshops, seminars and presentations to respond to two statements:
- Raise your hand if most of the business presentations you've attended in the past few years have made extensive use of visual aids.
- Raise your hand again if you can say that 51 per cent or more of the presentations you've attended in that time frame have been a good use of your time.
The response has been fascinating. Almost every hand has gone up to the first statement. We all know that the standard today is to use computer-generated visuals. Everyone is doing it. But just because everyone is doing it, does that make it effective?
That brings us to the results of the second statement. Consistently, since the first day I started asking people to respond to these statements, about six to eight per cent of hands have gone up in response to the second one. In other words, six to eight per cent of people say that more than half the presentations they've attended have been a good use of their time.
My conclusion? A lot of visual aids being used; an incredible amount of time being wasted. And whether you're on the delivery or receiving end of a presentation, time is the one precious commodity that none of us can afford to waste.