photo by AliceNWondrlnd
Are we presenting or acting?
Most of last week I attended a presentation skill workshop led by Australian actor Gerry Sont. As it was led by an actor, it consternated on the theatrical aspects of presentation skills, although it was a business presentation skill workshop. In addition, a few days before that I attended a class that touched the subject of PowerPoint presentations and their effectiveness from a neurological point of view. Generally, the point of the lecture was, don’t use PowerPoint – it is boring and does not work well with the human brain.
Is there (one) effective way?
Dealing and thinking about presentations and the best way to give them reminded of a truth I forget easily. There is no right way to give a presentation. There is no single formula that can make a presentation more effective. As a former trainer and coach of presentation skills, I used to teach what is the “right” or “effective” way to present. What I discovered after a few years and what I was reminded off in the last week it that there is no such thing. There are only tools that should to be used in order to make specific presentations more effective.
Presentations are not an exact science. If you take a ball and drop it to the ground it will fall at the same speed every time and if you change the setting, you can explain and predict how the fall will change. In presentations, as in a lot of subjects in the social sciences, there are no complete bullet proof answers.
Remember the differences
Now, I am not saying that there aren’t good tips a presentation coach or trainer can give. There certainly are. And you can see people becoming more effective just by applying a few skills properly. What I am saying, Is that it is wrong to try to create one formula that will always create an effective presentation. The reason for that is something that we are used to disregarding in our professional life. People are different and unique.
The people who are listening to you are different
This general truth about people being different affects both side of the equation. Both the presenter and the audience are affected. First, the more common difference that people usually are aware off – the audience. We have to remember that people are wired differently. Some have dominant right brains some have dominant left. Some are reflectors, some are theorists and some are pragmatists. Some get bored easily; some are able to concentrate for a long time. Some are more affected by reason (because of their profession or natural tendency) some are more affected by emotion. And as a presenter you have to take all of that into account. And taking that into account means using different methods for different people. It also means that a given presentation style could be very effective in one instance and totally wrong in another.
This should also true for the kind of presentation you are giving. If you are doing a sale pitch, you should not be using the same style is if you are teaching. Boardroom talks are not the same as a university class. It is a matter of people expectations. If you walk into a boardroom meeting and use a theatrical style of presentations, which might work very well in a classroom, people would look at you in a weird way. Not that surprises or breaking people expectations is bad. Vice versa. it is an important presentation tool, it is just that it could be as ineffective as it could be effective if not used correctly and in the right setting.
You are different than other presenters
In addition, you have to take into account the difference in presenters. Some can articulate ideas more naturally. Some have a talent to improvise while others need to prepare for a long time before each presentation. There are people who feel comfortable with an acting style of presentations while others just feel fake doing that. What this means is that a presentation style should also fit the presenter style and preference.
Your toolbox should contain more than a hammer
So I don’t believe there is one effective way to give presentations. There is no right or wrong use of power point. It depends on so many factors that we are just not able to give a straight answer. But, that does not mean we can’t do anything or can’t learn (or teach) anything. Because there are so many variables it is important to develop a lot of different tools. After all, as Abraham Maslow said:
“When your only tool is a hammer every problem looks like a nail“.
The more tools, skills and styles will have, the more we will be able to communicate and present effectively. This is true for acting styles and of different ways to use PowerPoint. The hard part is, of course, to try to match a style to both the audience and the presenter.