Keep it to yourself… but the future of presentations is looking bright.
That’s right – in a few years’ time, we’ll be sharing stories about the ‘bad old times’ to young whippersnapper colleagues who will listen on slack jawed as you reel off old presentation crimes like too many bullet points, clichéd clipart and unfocused 100 slide decks. Surely it could never have been that bad..? Yes kids, it was…and legions of business people sacrificed their sanity and hours of their busy lives so that you don’t have to.
So where does this positivity come from? Why so chipper about a subject that strikes fear into the hearts of audiences and presenters the world over? The answer is simple – we’re in the process of evolving…and the final stage of our development is just around the corner. We’ve done our learning – now is the time for us to start benefiting from all the mistakes of old.
In my mind, our Presentation Evolution has been governed by three key influences:
This has been by far the most obvious and immediately impactful influence on presentations over the last 20 years. I’m old enough to remember the frisson of excitement when given the opportunity to experiment with a software package called Harvard Graphics as part of a graduate trainee scheme many years ago.
Fast forward 20 or so years and presentation technology is ubiquitous – PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, eMaze…the list goes on.Of course, access to PC’s has enabled these software packages to develop however underpinning this is our insatiable hunger to find new ways to engage with audiences. This is a good thing and should be encouraged.
What’s more, we’re now seeing business people using presentation technology on their own terms rather than being dictated to by the perceived constraints of the software. More online meetings are now a blend of PowerPoint, electronic whiteboard content and audience interaction. Similarly, PowerPoint is increasingly being bent and twisted into a more interactive tool through the use of hyperlinks, clever plug-ins and rich media. Goodbye boring linear presentation, hello interactive visual conversation.
Reasons to be cheerful:
We’ve come a long way and the bad stuff is almost behind us now. We’ve bored audiences with dreadful slides, we’ve fallen into the trap of making technology the presentation, we’ve read a multitude of bullet points out, point by painful point…and we’ve finally figured out that this really isn’t the way to go. We’re now in the wonderful phase of evolution where we’ve started to learn from our mistakes.
If this evolutionary process continues in the right direction, we will have well and truly tamed technology in 10 years’ time and the impact, value and engagement levels of presentations will be at an all-time high.
While there is no doubt that technology is the thing grabbing the presentation headlines, the influence of peer pressure on the way in which we present to each other has been unprecedented over the last five years.
Much of this can be laid firmly at the door of the brilliant TED movement. We now have a globally recognised forum for (in the main) great orators and speakers to share their views. Not only are these typically very interesting topics but they represent a microcosm of good – limited to 18 minutes, normally accompanied with relevant impactful graphics and a strong sense of structure, message and call to action.
People watch them because they’re good…and then look to emulate them in their own presentations. Why? Because their audiences also watch TED Talks and as a result, their expectations have been raised to a new level. The measure of ‘good’ has just gone up a notch or two.
This sense of “stepping up to the presentation plate”goes up a further few notches as soon as you add in the automatic judge and jury of social media. Indeed, presentations have their own version of social media in the form of SlideShare where the audience can provide direct feedback. Couple this with the more established social media channels of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and the reality is that there is nowhere to hide.
Deliver a great presentation and your hard work and message could go viral in minutes. Sadly, the same goes if you crash and burn.
Reasons to be cheerful:
There is a real sense that business people have figured out the true value of presentations. Presenters now recognise that a presentation isn’t a task they need to get done along with their expenses – instead, they are viewing them as privileged opportunities to share insight, ideas and prompt change…all under the watchful gaze of their peers.
This shift in mind-set is all that’s needed to call in a new chapter of presentations. It truly is exciting.
One of the most disarming questions you can ask a presenter is ‘why are you bothering?’ Sounds harsh, especially as they sweat profusely over their carefully crafted slides and pre-prepared witty asides, but the reality is that many people struggle to come up with a coherent response. An alarmingly high number will just say that it’s what’s expected of them – it kind of comes with the territory and it’s what they’ve always done.
When presenters think like this, it’s a waste of their time and that of their audiences. No-one wins.
Interestingly the last 20 years has not only seen presenters evolve, it has also seen audiences become more empowered. As recently as 10 years ago, if an audience was bored, they’d valiantly grin and bear it, fighting the desire to take 40 winks and instead feigned engagement by occasionally nodding sagely or scribbling down a note or two.
Today’s audiences are a little rougher around the edges. If they’re bored, they’ll think nothing of turning to their smartphones or tablets and catching up on email or social media. If they’re particularly perturbed by the lack of interesting presentation content, they may even tell the world how boring it is through a tweet.
In short, the gloves are off. If as a presenter you can’t demonstrate why the presentation is of value to your audience, they have every right to switch off and go and do something more worthwhile instead.
Reasons to be cheerful:
A more honest audience will prompt more focused, audience centric presenters. It will take a brave person to stand up in front of an audience with the intention of ‘winging it’ or causing a distraction through overuse of animation strewn slides for the simple reason that once they’ve been found out, there is nowhere to hide.
The inevitable evolutionary step is that presenters will have to up their game, carefully choosing not only what and how to present but also whether to bother in the first place. Time saved and patience rewarded for all parties involved. Everyone wins.
So there you have it…
The reason I’m so chipper about the future of presentations is that we’re almost (but not quite) through the tough times. Our evolution as presenters means that we’ve learned what doesn’t work and through a combination of personal learning, peer pressure and the appropriate application of technology, we’re getting better.
The trick now is to maintain this upward improvement curve. Are you with me?