Thursday, January 19, 2012

Every Presentation, Ever: A Communication Failure?

I have spent, and continue to spend, a lot of my professional life either giving, or sitting through presentations. I have seen every one of the communication failures parodied in this video.

After I'd watched the video and smiled in recognition, and even winced occasionally about things know I've done in the past. I started thinking about the title.

Is every presentation ever given an exercise in communications failure?

I would submit that the vast majority are - sure there are good ones (see the various TED talks for instance), but most presentations are simply a dry regurgitation of facts and ideas that could be better expressed in much more entertaining and different ways.


By focusing on the speaker, not on the PowerPoint.

Think about the conference sessions you remember most - I bet it was the ones with the energtic, passionate, articulate speakers, rather than the ones with the prettiest slides. I have seen a growing trend amongst top rated speakers and presenters to just use single image slides acting as a backdrop to a particular point as a way of getting the audience to focus on them and the message they are delivering. I even have spoken to several other regular conference speakers about dropping the use of slides altogether, but conference organizers seem to get scared when you say you don't have any slides.

During the course of the year I attend two distinct types of industry events, first there are the technical and business conferences, then as a pop-culture writer there are the the various conventions. For as long as I have been attending science-fiction and comics conventions the default way of communicating with the audience is to have a panel of guests discuss a particular topic in which they have a stated interest, or experience. No PowerPoints, just people discussing what they know and what they are passionate about. The results are invariably both enlightening and entertaining.

Yet business conferences are still dominated by the "person in front of a slide deck" model. - Why? Over the last couple of years I've been lucky enough to be invited in a few business conferences that have experimented with the panel approach (usually just one or two in a program dominated by presentations), and in every case they have been well received, and a joy to participate in.

But it doesn't necessarily need a panel to get that same effect. I mentioned the TED talks earlier - many of the most viewed videos are of a single person on stage, just talking. Sharing ideas with a passion.

Of all the presentations I have ever sat through the most spell-binding was from graphic design guru Edward Tufte who spoke for a whole day on the subject of graphics, and never once used a PowerPoint slide.

Instead of "presenting" information and hiding behind slide decks we should be encouraging expression of ideas, conversations, and discussion. - That's what communication is really about.

1 comment:

Jake Sumner said...

We just posted an updated version of “Every Presentation Ever” here: