July 30, 2010

Hitting a brick wall with resistant clients

I've seen lots of good material over the past couple of years about PowerPoint slides and handouts, PowerPoint slides AS handouts, and lots of other material on effective PowerPoint. Topics that I've written about before include:

PowerPoint effectiveness based on research

New research about PowerPoint titles

Are you too dependent on your co-presenter?

Dave Paradi's Annoying PowerPoint Survey

Is the font on your PowerPoint big enough?

Why you can't read slides and listen to a speaker at the same time

PowerPoint slides as handouts and Slideuments and Slides are not handouts

PowerPoint disaster

Getting the resistant on board

PowerPoint design in 2009 -- a group blogging project

My fellow presentation experts Olivia Mitchell, Laura Bergells, Dave Paradi, Garr Reynolds, Cliff Atkinson, Jan Schultink, Jon Thomas, Jennifer Kammeyer, Ellen Finkelstein and others have been putting out bucketloads of excellent content about how to make PowerPoint effective for audiences and why.

So please tell me: If all this rich, plentiful, easy-to-understand material is out there, how do we get our clients to adopt the better way? (And let me clarify: I'm talking about training clients, not PowerPoint design clients. My design clients totally get it!)

Here are the arguments I hear against solid, well-founded research:

"We have to brand every slide with our logo, in case a client or someone from another company uses one of our slides out of context."

"We have to brand every slide with our logo because the audience doesn't know our company very well."

"We have to do slides full of text and bullets because our clients don't take our presentations seriously without it."

"We have to do slides full of text and bullets because we have no time to do a report as well as slides." (To which I reply, "Waah waah waah. Nobody has time. That's not an excuse.")

"We have to give our slides as handouts, because the conference requires it."

"We have to make our slides fit this format because we give it to another department afterward who won't understand if we change it."

I have responses to all of these arguments, but I'm not heartless or rigid. I get where they're coming from. Change is scary. It's time-consuming to develop new skills, train others and spread a new message. Sometimes there's one brave soul who gets it and wants to take the next step. But for every one brave soul, there are 15 who put up brick walls.

I suggest baby steps. Try one new thing. Cut down ten bullets to five. Spread out five bullet points over five slides. Take out hard-to-read charts and give them as handouts instead. Try using sentences as headers instead of single words or phrases. Nothing too crazy, fluffy or complicated.

But the resistance persists and honestly, I'm getting fed up.

You, my awesome readers, must have some responses to these arguments that I haven't yet heard or tried. If all the research can be ignored...if all the benefits to the audience's engagement, comprehension and retention can be ignored...if the ease, professionalism and simplicity of effective slides can be ignored, what else is there?

Please share in the comments how you appeal to your most resistant clients to make the move to new models of PowerPoint.

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14 comments. Please add yours! :

Unknown said...

Haha - as usual, my approach is different than yours!

Instead of "baby steps" - I go to the other extreme. I get radical.

For students, it's easy: "I see a bullet point, and you get an F on your presentation."

That's a wake-up call!

For clients, I go drama queen. "Ten years of research proves that bullet points are a lousy way to communicate. I'm going to challenge you to be daring -- try something new. You'll be surprised at how much you like it. And you'll be delighted at how much your audience will love you for it..."

Granted, it doesn't work all the time. But by pushing to the extreme, they go farther than they originally dared...

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's why I'm asking, Laura! I love to hear different approaches. I frequently wish I could give someone an F.

I do have to admit, that "Waah waah waah," thing I really did say to a corporate training group recently when they complained they have no time (complete with whining hand gesture). There are just some excuses I'm not going to listen to.

My design clients are a lot easier to hit with the "do something daring" approach. They are usually not slaves to a company that forces them to use templates and logos, though.

Jon Thomas said...

Laura - I wish I could be as forward as you because I think you're right on! It's like telling someone who never runs to go run 5 miles. They might make it 2 miles. But tell them to run 2 miles and they'll quit at 1.

I also tell clients (and anyone who will listen) that you don't have to be at a 10 like a presentation expert. Most presentations are a 1 or 2 (out of 10), so if you can be a 4 then you're twice as good as the rest!!

I have a post about why templates are unnecessary. What is with this fear of people stealing their content? Are there really people going around repurposing PowerPoint slides? How are they getting a hold of your slides anyways? I never send out my actual .PPT file - a locked PDF instead. Or post it on slideshare.net. I don't consider the content-theft a valid argument.

PowerPoint as a Handout or Report - Using your PowerPoint to work as a visual and as a leave-behind will end up in disaster. There's no way you don't have time to create a leave behind. Just type it up in Word - that's perfectly acceptable. It doesn't need fancy designs. Handouts and reports are meant to be read, while PowerPoints are meant to be SEEN. Not to mention - nobody ever goes back to look at your PowerPoint. I have no scientific proof, but seriously, when was the last time you sat and tried to "relive" a presentation by looking at the PowerPoint slides again?

It's an uphill battle, but we're making the world a better place, one presentation at a time!

Jon Thomas
Presentation Advisors

Lisa Braithwaite said...

LOL - I think you just repeated all my arguments, Jon.

Unknown said...

Pick a presentation with content that your clients is really confident with. Chances are she is already presenting it without the help of the slides in the background. Then start stripping things out the slides gradually. Every version will get more minimalist and better. Once you have created 1 example in the company, more will follow.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Jan! I wish I could say that my corporate clients were presenting without the help of their slides, but they are completely dependent on them.

I love the idea of stripping things out one at a time. I have taken that approach from time to time and have seen good results.

Unknown said...


This is the single toughest thing in our business, and one of the key topics I'll be addressing in my pre-conference workshop at The Presentation Summit in October. The approach I've taken is to try to work only with those clients who already recognize that they need to be better. If they have realized that their sales performance or career trajectory is being impacted by poor presentations, they are finally ready to change. Then they are open to suggestions. I learned a while ago that it is easier to work with those who want to work with you rather than try to convince those who are skeptical. So how do people get convinced that there is a better way than what they are using today? By seeing examples of what is possible. All the people you mention, and many others, contribute to the content that shows presenters a better approach. But presenters won't be willing to take that step until they have a reason to do so - a personal, painful reason. Pretty much like most things in our lives I guess.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Great point, Dave. It's all about pain. My corporate clients know their PowerPoint is bad; they just haven't had enough negative experiences or results to propel them to change.

Olivia Mitchell said...

Hi Lisa
Here's an interesting aspect of my experience. I get less resistance to the idea of PowerPoint without bullet-points on our courses than with one-on-one clients. Why might this be?
1. Before we get onto teaching PowerPoint, they've experienced half a day as audience members without being subjected to a single bullet-point slide. So they get how pleasurable non-bullet point presenting can be for the audience.
2. We then get them in touch with the pain of being subjected to bullet-point slides (I think Ellen Finkelstein does something similar in her courses).
3. By this time they're all nodding their heads in agreement that bullet-point slides are awful.
4. We then show them an easy way of creating non-bullet-point slides.

With individual clients, we have to replicate that process. Think of it as selling. Get them in touch with the pain, offer a solution, show benefits, overcome objections Most important, as Dave Paradi says, is getting them in touch with the pain of bullet-point presentations.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Olivia. Interesting that your experience is the reverse of mine. Is it because you live "down under?" :-)

I do think pain is key. As I mentioned to Dave, most of my corporate clients are aware of how ineffective their slides are, but they blame others for not being able to change: clients, customers, bosses are forcing them to keep up the status quo.

I get a positive reaction to my non-bullet slides as well, and they see how effective it can be. But they have their own clients' and supervisors' resistance to contend with, and I think for a lot of them, that's a conflict they want to avoid.

I appreciate everyone's thoughts on this!

David Resseguie said...

Lisa, most my experience comes from trying to be the change agent from the inside rather than as an instructor. But perhaps my experience can provide some helpful insight.

Our (large government) organization has all the standard logo-filled templates one would expect. I've always gotten push-back from others for wanting to break out of the standard look. As one of your listed excuses suggests, I had to battle with others within our organization over the fear that my presentation wouldn't be taken seriously without the official template.

My approach was simply to ignore the template and present the way I know best communicates my ideas.

I started with smaller, informal presentations at first. And just opposite of the fears, I found that I was being taken much more seriously--simply because it stands out. All of a sudden, I was being asked more and more to brief visitors/sponsors/customers.

I've not managed to "crack the nut" on how to convince others in our group to change, but the push-back for me has gone away. Perhaps you can coach your clients to take a similar approach? Start with small, informal presentations and let the results speak for themselves. They might just find, as I did, that all the arguments fade away when they make the extra sell, win the proposal, etc.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for adding to the discussion, David. I have worked with a couple of individuals in your situation, who are more like renegades on the inside! And I have heard from them that this approach does work if they don't make a big deal out of it.

We did make our own decision to remove the corporate logo from a client's presentation without permission, and no one ever made a fuss. :-)

Ellen Finkelstein said...

As Olivia said, I go through a bulleted slide and ask people to tell me what their experience is. They always say that they can't read and listen at the same time, etc. Then I immediately say, "If you shouldn't create slides of bulleted text, what should you do?" And I give them alternatives (my "Tell 'n' Show" method). As several people noted, when presenters do go out of the mold, the results are usually good. I did a webinar today with some large companies and they liked the makeovers I did of their slides. No one seemed to think they should use the template-bullet model, but they didn't have the tools to do anything different. And, as Dave said, it's good (if you can manage it) to simply refuse to train people to do the wrong thing. You create great slides, Lisa, and that's what you should train people to do.

I wrote a blog post on the question. You can find it at http://bit.ly/cAu8fP.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Ellen. This is also my understanding: People don't like the slideshows they're making, but they don't have an alternative. Now, in showing the alternative, it's still very scary to them to embrace the idea of change. So there's a lot of middle ground to cover between "We want to change," and "We are committed to change."

Looking forward to reading your blog post on this!

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