A presentation is not a document!
In a prior post, Why you can’t send them your slides, I wrote that your slides are there to support your presentation and not to be the presentation. Without you, they shouldn’t work. Carrying the entire presentation in the slides turns them into slideuments, which then makes them ineffective as visual aids for you, the presenter. If the slides are the presentation, why are you there at all?
Jerry Weissman, Presenting to Win, has this to say about that topic:
A presentation is a presentation and only a presentation. . . never a document. After all, Microsoft provides Word for documents and PowerPoint for presentations. And never the twain shall meet.
Be sure to distribute the handouts only after the presentation. If you distribute them before or during the presentation, your audience members will flip through them as you speak, and they won’t listen to what you have to say.
If you’re asked to provide a copy of your presentation for a conference so that the slides can be printed in book form, use PowerPoint’s Notes Page view. That way, you’ll maintain the integrity of your slides as purely presentation material.
If you’re asked to provide a copy of the presentation in advance, as so often happens, especially in the venture capital and financial sector, politely offer to provide a business plan or executive summary… as a document. And create that document with Microsoft Word, not PowerPoint.
I couldn’t agree more with Jerry on all of that.
However in the corner of the business world where I sit, that advice while correct, is often made irrelevant by management insistence on:
1) content on the slides (slideuments) and
2) distributing the slides in advance of the session. Yes, exactly what Weissman puts on his “don’t do this list.”
That road sign is the message I’d like send when that happens. Just like the drivers who see that road sign, they’re already on a dangerous path, headed in the wrong direction. Every chance I get, I suggest a change in direction, an “alternative” approach. And just telling them their way is stupid is not recommended 🙂 — there can be a steep a price to being right here.
- Sometimes I can get a positive response to the idea of sending out an executive summary paper in advance instead of the slides, and it’s always worth trying.
- Occasionally, I can convince the-powers-that-be we should reduce the content on the slides, add the material to the Notes Pages and use those as a leave-behind or handout and not the slides.
- Sometimes I just do it and take the “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach.
In the end, the reality is that there’s often just no way to get it done “right” when someone else defines “right.” The odd thing is that when I do (or design) a presentation that isn’t constrained, I normally get a lot of positive feedback, ironically sometimes from the same people who insist that another approach won’t work. >sigh< But I’ll keep trying and so should you. The sad thing is that the ”bar” on presentations is so low that even small improvements can make you stand out from the crowd in a positive way. Never forget:
Presentation is the killer skill we take into the real world. It’s almost an unfair advantage.
The McKinsey Mind