To-The-Point Presentations

Presentations are a source of frustration a lot of time and even wrong decisions. At least that is what Kevin's next guest thinks. He wrote a book about how you can present to the point.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Presentations are a source of frustration a lot of time and even wrong decisions. At least that is what my next guest thinks. He wrote a book about how you can present to the point.


Hi, how should I call you? Is it Edward, Edouard or Ed, because I did see the names passing by in your books?


Well, that is a funny one. Actually my first name is Édouard. It is written in a French way. But ask somebody in London to write that name correctly and then mostly when they have to spell it, it becomes quite difficult. So the editor of my book suggested that we would use Ed, because most people in the UK call me Ed.


Okay, then we just call you Ed today. Hi Ed. Today we are going to talk about presentations and you made a fairly bold statement, and I read it out, “Presentations are a source of frustration a lot of time and even wrong decisions”. That’s a bold one.


Yes, well first of all, they are clearly talking about business presentations, not presentations for entertainment. But, yes, presentations are a huge source of loss of time. We made a study about four years ago to see how presentations were used in organizations, with about 250 people in different types of organizations, and what we saw is that the average employee in an average organization spends about 25% of his time on PowerPoint. Actually, we saw that there were two peaks. One peak was around 7% to 8% and one peak was around 60% to 70%. The first peak was for the average employee, the second peak was for people working in headquarters, who spend a lot of time on PowerPoint. That is not necessarily bad news. The bad news is that we also saw that 75% of presentations have no impact. So 75% of that time is pure loss of time.


That’s a lot.


That is really a lot. And that is where organizations can really improve a lot. And that is not the only thing, because as you said: bad decisions. If I ask most managers what they think of presentations in their companies, they say that presentations are of an appalling quality. But all decisions are prepared with presentations. So if a decision is based on a presentation that was appalling, what can you say about that decision? It is difficult to give some examples, but one very well-known exampleis the space shuttle ‘Columbia’, of which has been proven afterwards that the reason why that space shuttle has crashed during the landing, is because the management was badly informed and took wrong decisions based on a badly organized PowerPoint. The right information to make the right decision was there, it is only the way in which it was put into a PowerPoint that led them to the wrong decision.


There are a lot of misconceptions also about presentations. I have a few of them over here: form and skills are more important than the message itself.


Yes, of course, that is not true.


I thought we started an easy one. - Of course that is not true.


A lot of people are misled by a number of things. First of all the biggest fear of most people is to stand there in front of the audience. And they think if I can learn to speak like an actor and overcome my fearsit will be much easier, I know my content anyhow. And then that thinking is reinforced by some studieslike the ‘Mehrabian Study’, that says that communication would only be like 7% or something, sorry, words would only be 7% of total communication, the rest Is non-verbal in tone of voice, etc. That study actually took place. But what they measured is whether an audience believed a speaker, yes or no, when he was expressing a feeling with one word:“I like this”, “I don’t like this”. Do you believe that person? Of course you don’t listen to his words. You look at his face… - Yes, it is one word, it’s obvious.So, what we saw, and we measured this for 750 presentations in a business situation, is what makes that a presentation has impact? And what we saw is that what we call the narrative: the messaging and the structure of the content, has by far the most impact, or is by far the most important. Much more important than the speaker skills. You would much rather have somebody who doesn’t know very well how to speak, but who has a good content, than somebody who makes a big show, where in his content is weak.


Another misconception. We should start with the details and then, of course, end up with the conclusion.


Yeah, we all feel like we need to be story tellers.


Build up something.


And buildup something. Buildup some tension and keep the conclusion for the end. That is what we do in movies,that is what you have in books, etc. And also when I have prepared that presentation, I made my whole analysis of, I don’t know, the market and the finances, etc, I analyzed a lot of details to come to a conclusion at the end. What I tend to do, is take the audience through that same reasoning. But for many reasonsthat is not a good idea. The first reason is that the risk of losing your audience along the way is quite high. So, if you lose your audience before you come to the conclusion...


Yes, you have a problem.


There you are. Then I prepare a presentation of, let’s say, one hour to come to a conclusion at the end. But many business presentations don’t come to the end, because you don’t have the time. And I would say the most important thing and that we all remember from school, if you want to learn something, if you want to understand something, you have to repeat it many times. Now how can you repeat something if you keep the most important for the end?


Yes, that will be difficult.




What about, for example, Prezi and presentations with a lot of images, one words?


Yes, there’s two sides to your question. One is Prezi, and then I assume Prezi versus PowerPoint. And one is the use of image, etc.


Yes, you are right.


When you look at the tools, one PhD study that I have seen lately looked at all those tools: Prezi, PowerPoint, etc. And the conclusion from that PhD student was that actually all the tools have roughly the same effect. Some tools when they are very new attract more attention because of the novelty. But once the novelty wears off, it isn’t better one or the other. So we all have PowerPoint on our computers. We all know how to work with PowerPoint, why not use it. And why start to use something that we don’t know. The second part of your question was the use of visuals. Yes, indeed, visuals are very important. And if you have a good message, putting that message in simple words, in few words on the screen is a good idea. But our human brain also needs detail. It also needs detailed data, figures, numbers, in order to be convinced about something. We also need to show those things. It is only finding the good balance between, well, visuals, words and detailed data numbers and figures. If you make a presentation of your new business plan to oversee your company, and it is only some nice pictures with a few words, you will never convince them.


Yes, you might need some numbers.




And a question I get a lot when I go out speaking is, “Can you send over the PowerPoint presentation?”. I am always wondering should I do that or not.


It is a really difficult one. Actually, it is a question that I get from the audience after each of my key notes or my trainings, where people always say, “And can I get a copy of your slides?”. And they are quite surprised if I say, “No, you can’t”. And there is a reason for that. I mean, slides and a document to read are totally different things. Good slides are there to support your talk. If I make a presentation, I want to have the attention on myself and then sometimes I will steer the attention to the slides. I don’t want to have full text on the slides. Now, if you would send out slides like that, they are virtually meaningless to somebody who reads them. Because you do not have the text with it. And the problem is that what most people then try to do is, they kind of make a mix between the two. And they have a product that is neither good for showing on a slide or on a screen, and not good for reading. It is a very bad mix in between. The other thing is that quite often people or mostly the management of a company, they ask to send the slides upfront. Which is also something quite weird. Because if I send you my whole story upfront, then why should I come and explain it afterwards? If it is already clear in there. And then you get this kind of type of situation that 30% of your audience has read the slides and 70% hasn’t read the slides. So what you’ve done is you have created two very different levels of basic knowledge before you start to speak. Which is the worst situation you want to have as a presenter. And then some of the people who have read it, they went through all the details, they understand it, they have a question on page 25. I mean that person is just sitting there and waiting until you are on page 25 to ask that question. Or he asks the question straight away which is even worse.


If I hear all those stories then preparation is key.


Of course, preparation is key. And that is one of the issues in many companies. I mean we are under so much stress to deliver, we’re under so much stress to go quickly, that whenever somebody gets a questionI have to make a PowerPoint. The first thing that you do is you dive into the slides you already have, you start to reshuffle them, make some extra slides until you think that you have something that is more or less coherent. And mostly you end up with a very bad narrative with too much detail, difficult to understand. And then people don’t understandyour presentation or they don’t agree, and you have come back next week or next month with the same subject, etc. It is a very bad use of time. It is much better to have a, how would I say, a structured way of approaching your preparation. For yourself. If you have a certain routine that you do each time to prepare, think of that first, “Who is my audience?” “Why would those people listen to me?” “What is really important to them?” “What do I really want to achieve?” Then, okay, in order to achieve that, “What information do those people need?” “How can I make that structure?” “How can I make it logical?” And then what can I add as numbers and figures to be really convincing, and an example may be to attract their attention. And once you have this narrative, then you have a good story. Then you can start to think about what slides will I make, or what slides will I reuse to really make that a good story.


But if you have that good story, do you still need a presentation?


Well, that is the reaction I get from most people. I mean mostly people ask us to help them to create a good PowerPoint. And then in the end quite often then they say, “Actually I do not need a PowerPoint”. Yes, yes, indeed, if you have a good story, you don’t need a PowerPoint. Sometimes the PowerPoint can even hinder the story flow. I didn’t say that slides don’t have an end value. The study I earlier mentioned showed that actually slides are even more important than the speaker skills. In a very particular case. When there is too much information in the presentation,then slides will help the audience if the information is well structured on the slides. Slides will help the audience to still understand the information, even if it is too much. And that is where slides come in very very helpful. But if your story is good, actually you don’t need them.


Okay that is a remarkable fact to conclude with, Ed. Thank you very much for coming over.


Thank you, Kevin.


And you at home, thank you for watching our show, I hope to see you next week.