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I worked as a waitress at the Truck Stop Cafe on Highway 30 in Jefferson, Iowa, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I worked the graveyard shift from 10 at night until 6 in the morning. It was my second summer waitressing there, but the graveyard shift was a whole other world for my naive 19-year-old self.
One night a customer came in with his arm in a cast. I don’t remember much about the guy other than he had the cast and he was wearing a football jersey. He seemed like a normal guy to me.
At one point during his visit, he said to me, “Ask that guy over there what he’s staring at…” and I did!
I thought he was just joking around! I thought he was just playing a trick on a buddy. I didn’t get that he was being antagonistic or looking for a fight until after I saw the expression on the other guy’s face! I darn near help start a fight that night!
Man, did I feel like a dweeb. I promise I had good intentions. It had to be a joke right? I really blew it.
Lately I’ve been interviewing technology presenters who speak at industry and company conferences. One of the messages I keep hearing is that they “have” to use the presentation slides that their marketing department provides. And they hate what marketing provides! Just like my story above, I’m sure the marketing departments have good intentions. But presenters are telling me they feel like marketing is sabotaging a major aspect of their presentation! And they’re right!
I believe marketing was given the responsibility to do presentation slides because early in the years of PowerPoint, there were a lot of horrendously bad slides. So marketing was asked to come up with standard templates, standardized fonts, and of course standardized branding for each and every slide. And those changes were an improvement. But now experience and research tells us there are better ways to connect with audiences and smart marketing departments should get on board!
The Top 4 Things Marketing Departments Are Doing to Ruin Your Presentation – And What to Do about It!
#1 – Slides Which Contain Everything the Presenter Should Say
People who speak on behalf of your company are subject matter experts. They don’t need every word spelled out on every slide. And there are two very good reason not to write everything on the slides…
Reason #1 Why You Shouldn’t Put All the Words on the Slide – Retention
Research done by Richard Mayer and others at the University of California in Santa Barbara indicates that when you have all the words on the slide that the presenter is going to say, retention of that information and the ability to apply that information to new situations goes down. In other words, your wordy slides are making the presenter’s talk LESS memorable.
Reason #2 Why You Shouldn’t Put All the Words on the Slide – Temptation to Read
I don’t know if it’s been scientifically proven, but having someone read a business presentation aloud is far more boring than having your speaker share information and have a conversation with the audience. Don’t tempt your presenters by giving them a screen with something they can read. Boring presentations aren’t going to be remembered for any reason that will help your company!
What to Do Instead
Only put one concept per slide. Use visuals to represent concepts with two or three words per slide. For help, read Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Or see several posts within this blog with helpful tips on creating slides with visuals.
Case in Point
Last week I gave a presentation on improving your slides to a group in Macon, Georgia. I’d actually given the same presentation 17 months earlier to this same group. (That’s what they’d asked for – and only a few people had seen the presentation when I’d done it last year.) When making a point about putting pictures on your slides, I used the same picture that I’d used 17 months previous. In fact, it was this slide that I showed them both times.
Retention of Information Increases with a Picture on Your Slide
Seventeen months ago I’d told the audience that the picture was of me when I lived in military housing as a kid. But I didn’t mention that fact during the presentation last week. Toward the end while taking some questions, a man who had seen the same presentation last year said, “And so you know this works, do you remember when Kelly showed us the picture of the slide… I still remember that picture was of Kelly when she lived in base housing. And I still remember that over a year later.” Pictures work!
Coach the Presenter through the Notes Section
If there are points you want your presenters to cover on any given slide, coach them through the notes section of the slides. Don’t put all the words on the slides themselves.
#2 – Branding on Every Slide
Extraneous information on your slides, such as branding on the top and/or bottom of every slide detracts for your message. Any of those detractors, reduce the retention of your information.
What to Do Instead
Brand the first slide and the last slide of your presentation. There’s almost never a reason why you need branding on the other slides.
What to Keep Doing
I do believe for most presentations having a standard set of font that you use is a good thing. Using consistent font types throughout the presentation gives the overall deck a more polished look. There may be times when you want to use an exaggerated font to make a point. But generally speaking, having a consistent font type will better serve the overall impression the audience will have of your slides.
#3 – Screen Shots & Diagrams No One Can Read
It’s insulting. It’s annoying. For the presenter and the audience.
What are you trying to achieve by having a slide that no one can read? Do you really need the screen shot or the complex diagram? Why does the audience care?
What to Do Instead
Determine what you’re trying to achieve and why the audience will care. If the audience won’t benefit from that screen shot or complex diagram, then don’t use it!
If the audience will benefit, try to find another way to get the same information across. Provide a handout. Point them to a website. If you absolutely must guide them through a complex maze, consider the handout combined with a series of slides, each highlighting small sections as you guide the audience to know where to look on the handout. But seriously, seriously ask yourself “Is this really needed?”
#4 – Stifling Creativity
One of the best ways to help your message get through to your audience is through personal stories that the audience can relate to. If you as the marketing department give the slides without allowing your presenters to add some of their own individuality and their own stories to the presentation, you’re actually doing the organization a disservice.
What to Do Instead
Give your presenters permission to add their stories. Given your topic and the flow of the material, you might even be able to suggest different segments where the presenter can add stories.
One of my clients originally found me when I spoke to a group she’s a member of. She actually called me to hire me 21 months after she’d seen me speak. When she first hired me, she recounted a story that I’d told her 21 months earlier. That story was a critical factor in why she hired me.
Yes, pictures work. And so do stories. Don’t let your presenters get so wrapped up with the corporate message that they don’t use tools such as stories to help make concepts and content stick.
I know marketing people are good people with honorable intentions. Having marketing do the slides has certainly made them look more professional. But there are good business reasons why marketing departments need to modify the way they put slides together for their corporate presenters. Just like I didn’t intend to provoke a fight at the Truck Stop Cafe, I know marketers don’t want to distance an audience from the corporate message. So follow the advice above – do what makes the most sense instead!
Do you agree? Do you have evidence that proves otherwise? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!