March 14, 2012

Is your presentation like a flea market?

Image by Pedro Moura Pinheiro 
Presentations can go wrong in a lot of different ways. Here's one way that you may have perpetrated, or perhaps experienced as an audience member.

First, let's talk to the perpetrator: Have you ever had to create a new presentation for a meeting or conference and decided that you had all the information you needed in several previous PowerPoint slideshows? So you sat down, opened them all up, and started cutting and pasting slides from the previous presentations into a new one?

Now, let's talk to the audience member: Have you ever watched a presentation that had no structure, no flow, no transitions, and the slides looked like they were a mishmash of several different presentations based on the format, color or size of the text and images? Did you feel confused, lost or frustrated?

Previous presentations may very well have all the information you need to create your new presentation. But that doesn't mean you can just toss a bunch of old slides into a new slideshow and have a well-organized presentation that makes sense to anyone but you. You can't just take three slideshows and meld them together without creating a new structure that meets the needs of the new presentation.

Before you open those old presentations, before you look at any slides, sit down and structure your presentation the old-fashioned way.

1. What's your objective?
2. Who's your audience?
3. What do they need, want and care about?
4. What do you want them to do as a result of your presentation?
5. What's your main message and what are the three key points you want to make in order to get that message across?

Old-school. Start from scratch. Create the skeleton first.

Once you have a basic outline of your presentation, then yes, you can feel free to insert slides from previous presentations that might fit. In fact, my presentations (image-based, as you know), are basically modular. If I decide I'm going to talk about fear and anxiety in a presentation, I can pull that whole module of, say, 9 slides, from another presentation. But only if it fits, only if it makes sense.

And I will still need to tweak some things. For example, if I'm talking to entrepreneurs rather than nonprofit employees, I will change slides that refer to building relationships with "donors and volunteers" to "customers and vendors." I will want to make sure color schemes and fonts are cohesive across all slides. I will sub new activities, exercises and discussions for any that worked for the previous audience but won't work now.

Here's an example. In my presentations on promoting your business without sounding like a commercial, I talk about engaging the audience through stories, quotes, quizzes and questions. The first slide, below, is from a presentation to a nonprofit organization:

The second slide, below, is from a presentation to an event planning association:

I'm talking about the same thing in each presentation: using an effective quote or statistic to engage your audience. But by tailoring the quote or statistic to the organization I'm speaking to, which takes very little extra time, I show the audience that I created this presentation with them in mind, and that this is not a canned or thrown-together presentation.

I wish I could show you the slideshows my clients have sent me that mushed together several previous presentations. These don't work. They're like the junk store or flea market of presentations, except that your audience doesn't want to have to dig through the mess to find the treasure.

It's not because the content isn't good or the message isn't good. It's because the content and the message are put together haphazardly, rather than clearly outlined and structured to make sense to that particular audience on that particular day.

Having previous slideshows can be a great shortcut to a new presentation, and after all that work you've put in, you deserve to be able to use work you've already done and not reinvent the wheel.

But you do need to create a new outline each time. Period. If you don't, and you decide that it's just easier and faster to carelessly throw together disparate slides from disparate presentations, your presentation will suffer. You may think you're saving time by skipping this first crucial step. But really, you end up wasting your own time and your audience's time with a crappy and confusing presentation.

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