Often presenters get so caught up in their content, that they fail to realize the perception they create through that other crucial sense – the eyes. Let me explain.
Each person in your audience has only 5 senses through which they can absorb information. Unless you have creative ways to involve touch, taste and smell (a cooking demo, perhaps?) they will be relying on what they hear and see. Both are highly significant, but in different ways. Let’s first consider hearing:
The audio message is built up over a period of time which could be a few minutes to an entire day at a time. Typically, the message evolves. Initially one hears the first sentence (if it’s music, then the first few bars). As the seconds and minutes tick on, the theme evolves. The better its put together, the better it evolves. At a certain point audience members will register approval or otherwise as they “get it”. If there is no logical structure, attention deficit will soon set in. In order for the central message to stick, it should be introduced and then repeated in depth. It’s usually a good idea to remind the audience again at the end.
The visual message is more immediate. The brain is able to interpret a great deal of information in mere seconds through the eyes. As the seconds and minutes move on, only variations in movement like gestures and facial expressions will alter the scene, unless visuals such as slides are introduced. These visuals are intended to compliment or strengthen the message. Very often they do not. The trend is that the better the tools available to produce slides, the lazier presenters become.
The visual message may be produced using a combination of the presenters body language and slides or props. It can be argued that in a skillful presentation the former is perhaps more influential than the latter.
In a poor presentation the presenter inevitably supports the slides and fails to engage the audience with his personality. In a skillful presentation, the audio message will dominate after a few minutes, relegating visual to a support role. But it can be a very important support role if visuals are correctly used, and the body language of the presenter is confident and appropriate.
The key body language elements are audience eye contact, natural confident gestures, a smile and good posture.
The most useful components of slides are effective pictures, graphs or diagrams. The 5 most common slide design errors that will distract your audience from your message are:
- Too much use of text: Your audience can read much faster than you can read out loud. The more text you put on a slide, the more time the audience will be reading and not listening to what you say. They will start reading as soon as the text appears, and will stop when they’ve finished reading all the text, regardless of where you are or what you’re saying. When they start listening to you, they will have lost context, and you will have lost your power and influence. You may as well have emailed them a document.
- The text blast: If you feel you need a few points of text, introducing all the text at once is a clear message to please read – which means they’ll stop listening. Rather use custom animation to introduce the text point by point. That way, the audience can focus on the current point. Preferably, use as few points as possible.
- Too many slides: Visual overload results in mental shut down. The less visuals you have, the more people will remember of the few that you showed. The more visuals you have, the less impact each one will generate, and the less people will remember what you say.
- Too much use of special effects and video: Special effects belong in 3D movies, not presentation slideshows as the showmanship can detract from the message and your objective. One short powerful video clip that is not in general circulation can enhance your message. Using too many clips, or overused (viral) clips will relegate your presentation to “same old, same old”.
- Cumbersome headings: Short headings on visuals are better than long ones. What’s even better is no headings. A strong picture or graph adequately creates context. You can rather say the heading. That way, you eliminate another unnecessary distraction.
The visual trend is now simplicity. Clutter never was advisable, but today it’s taboo. Modern presenters understand that a positive image could be the tipping point factor that results in a decision going your way. The extra planning and rehearsal required to achieve this will be worth every second.
As a modern presenter it is your job to engage both the ears and the eyes in a manner that achieves the desired results. Don’t let the visual image undo what has been achieved by an otherwise sound presentation.