It’s time to admit an uncomfortable truth: 99% of the work in receiving a college degree has more to do with sitting through awful presentations than actual academic accomplishment. You know exactly what I’m talking about: they walk up, uncomfortable, to the front of the room, and start fiddling around with the computer for five minutes, sometimes bemoaning technology and leaving the audience sitting there in wild anticipation of how uncomfortably slow or fast the presenter will speak. Then they finally get it together, present something that looks a but like this website, and they read. the. fucking. slides. If I wanted to read the slides, I would read the slides. They finish, and you move on to the next victim. Everyone has a bad experience, and that becomes the societal norm, so obviously we’ll just do it again for the next presentation that comes along. Sorry executives, I’ve seen you pull this crap too. No one is immune. I even give bad presentations on occassion, It’s a part of the culture now.
In an effort to reduce the casualties of this horrific cycle of bad presentations, I’ve put together this short three-step guide. Read it. Use it. Thanks.
- More pictures, less text
No one wants to read whatever you have on your slides. Use more pictures. I’ve given presentations that were 99% pictures. You can find free-to-use, high-resolution stock photos now under very amenable Creative Commons Licenses at any number of websites. I like pexels.com. You can usually use one of these for a background image, and use a combination of opacity/boxes to make text readable. Remember, you’re telling a story here, even if your subject is incredibly dry.
- Know what you’re talking about
If you’re reading off the slides, it means you don’t know what to say. If you don’t know what to say, do you really know the material that well? Practice that shit and get it down so that you can talk as though you were having a real conversation with somebody. That way, if your computer dies, you can still convey your ideas without relying on slides. This is one of the reasons I don’t use slides when teaching classes- I need to be able to create and adapt content (using a whiteboard usually) on the fly to accommodate where my audience is needing additional information.
- Plan ahead for technology problems
It never works right, so plan ahead for that. I almost exclusively use Google Slides now; PowerPoint has some nice features, but Slides gives you a URL you can shorten and have access to anywhere. I’m sure PP can do this, but it’s just easier to use something that was specifically created for the cloud. Carry an exported version on a USB stick. That should cover 80% of problems you’ll have.
That’s it! Do these things and your presentations will improve overnight. Notice how none of these focus on reducing the number of times you say “um” or improving your body language; They all focus on the audience’s experience. This is important- body language and phrasing can help with the overall presentation, but the big three issues are covered here: audiences find text boring, they find your content uninteresting and vague, and they get just as anxious as you do when there are tech problems.