Let me transport you back to 1984 for a moment…
Back then I was working for the largest presentation graphics service bureau in the world. There was no PowerPoint. No electronic projectors or wireless remote devices. And the idea of video, audio and music were still relegated to insanely expensive corporate videos.
The art of presenting… well, let’s just say it was in its formative years.
When people wanted presentation visuals for a big event, they typically brought in a stack of hand-scribbled pages of pie charts, bullet slides and idea illustrations. My job… I had to somehow decode it all and assign it to a computer artist camped on a $50,000 computer graphic workstation.
And when my team had done their job (at $240/hr.), we delivered trays of 35mm slides or high resolution transparencies (foils) to the clients to the tune of $7,000-$10,000. And God help the client who had the misfortune of spelling someone’s name wrong; it meant more console create time (at 200% rush charges), an E6 run for the slides and a courier to run the replacement slide across town! Caa-ching.
Fast forward to today and it seems so much has changed…
Now, everyone can create presentations on their computers or tablets.
Presentations can be delivered ‘virtually’ around the planet.
A massive, media-rich presentation can fit on a tiny thumb drive.
And electronic projectors are the size of a pack of cigarettes.
But what about the flesh and blood presenter? How have today’s presenters evolved to the next level of professionalism and the advice offered them?
A clue might be found in a USA Today article written recently to provide a little guidance for college students. The author identified some common complaints that must be avoided at all costs because of their prevalence in the business world today.
- Reading each word of your slide show aloud.
- Designing a distracting slide show.
- Failing to make eye contact.
- Speaking longer than necessary.
If I asked my clients 30 years ago to name their top presenter complaints, guess what I would have heard? Sadly, the very same stuff. So it begs the question – if the tools around the presentation process have evolved so dramatically in the last three decades – why haven’t presenters?
Here are 3 reasons why and what needs to change soon.
1) Presenters still have no time to do things right.
The promise of technology always seems to come with the implied benefit of giving us time back in our lives. Unfortunately, that never really happened with creating a presentation and magically we just expected PowerPoint to pick up more of the heavy lifting.
And if you’re like most companies, nearly all the preparation time for an important presentation is still spent just figuring out what’s going to be said and hammering out some slides. And the skills to deliver the message in front of the room? Untouched for decades. Same issues. Same audience frustrations.
Presenters need to develop a trusted support team to handle the more mechanical and creative details of presentation creation to free them up to do their part more effectively – confident and engaging execution of a well-internalized message.
2) Presenters aren’t often even sure what “right” should look like.
Just like a professional golfer’s caddy becomes key in offering timely advice that keeps them on top of their game, presenters desperately need people to help them make wise decisions about their presentation approaches too.
Presenters have always been the worst evaluators of their presentation skills. (A little inside info here…. my toughest clients are the executives who have been told for years how awesome they are when in reality… not so much.)
Presentation consultants (internal or external) can be your executive’s communication caddy if they are allowed to be. It may just be time to get an objective set of eyes on the whole process, planning to delivery. And executives, time to loosen your grip on the entire presentation process and rally some talent around you.
3) Presenters are still made out of the same stuff.
Fear is still a very primal instinct. Has been for a million years. Today, however, it’s not a T-Rex outside our cave that puts a lump in our throats, it’s a room full of eyes all fixed on you and the next words out of your mouth.
So is that emotion understandable these days? Certainly.
But too often we’ve allowed the fear of presenting and the fear of change and self-examination to paralyze things that need to evolve. Perhaps it’s time for executives and managers everywhere to suck it up and embrace the fact that what you say and how you say it matters. It matters to the people counting on you. It matters to important outcomes. Good enough is no longer good enough.
It’s time to swallow your pride (and perhaps fear) and get some help.
Maybe 30 years from now we’ll all be talking about how amazingly better presenters are – but I really doubt it.
Just like I can count on Taylor Made who makes the driver in my golf bag to come up with a must-have ($400) enhancement every year, the fact is golf clubs will still always require someone to actually swing them.
And so will presentations.
Yes, a lot of changes have occurred since the early days of presenting. But it’s time to take our presentation game to the next level. And that next step will not have anything to do with things that get plugged into a wall or run off a battery.