The Art of Presentations

Effective electronic presentations leave a lasting impression that reinforces key points voiced by the speaker. Electronic presentations are invaluable sidekicks.

Effective electronic presentations leave a lasting impression that reinforces key points voiced by the speaker. Electronic presentations are invaluable sidekicks.

Debates persist over whether or not to use electronic presentations to accompany your speech, tutorial or classroom lecture. The fundamental question to ask is whether your electronic presentation will add value to what you say.

If you use your presentation as a teleprompter, reading each bullet point, the audience will stop listening to you and just read for themselves. If your presentation consists of impenetrable charts and graphs, they will get weary of watching. If your presentation contains slides crammed from corner to corner with words, charts and tiny pictures, they will start looking at their smartphones.

Think of an electronic presentation as a sidekick. If you were a musician, your presentation would be the bass. If you were a magician, your presentation would be the beautiful girl you saw in half.

The purpose of a well-conceived electronic presentation is to underline key points in your talk. Think of television news anchors who have an image, sometimes with limited amount of text, in the background to reinforce news items.

Audiences differ, so the style of electronic presentations needs to match those differences. If your speech is inspirational, your slide deck needs to convey inspiration. If your speech is more technical, your slide deck should be meatier.

Rick Enrico, CEO of SlideGenius and writing for ragan.com, describes three presentation styles used by highly successful public speakers – all of which follow the sidekick metaphor, but which match up with audience needs, speaker preferences and subject matter demands.

The first style is what he calls the Massayoshi Takahashi method. Enrico says Takahashi, a computer programmer by training, uses single words or short phrases rendered in large type on each slide as part of a fast-paced presentation style that keeps audiences engaged. He doesn't read the word or phrases, but they sum up what he is talking about. They are, in effect, a series of key messages. Takahashi believes his method requires his audience to be active listeners as he hustles through his slide deck.

Enrico attributes another style to Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig. The Lessig method involves adorning each slide with a sentence or phrase that becomes the center point for his comments. He uses graphic techniques, such as putting key words in a bolder color, to create emphasis and visual variation. This approach acts like the thesis for an essay. You can see the argument and listen to the speaker marshal the points to sustain the thesis.

The third style Enrico describes belongs to marketer Seth Godin. He combines text and image to tell a visual story. This allows some points to convey an emotional charge. The key for this approach, Enrico says, is to use quality images and lean text – akin to designing a magazine layout or a billboard.

All three methods depend on what's on the slide – not the transition to the slide, which often is distracting or even confounding.

All three methods require speakers thinking about what they want to say and using their electronic presentations to add value to their words.

Successful speakers regard electronic presentations are part of a team – the part of the team that plays a solid supporting role helping the main player – you – connect with your audience.