Monday, May 12, 2008

Presentation Tools

Writen by John Dir

In the discussion of honing the art of presentation, the focus is quite often centered on the speaker's talent, with little emphasis on the importance of the information they are being tasked to relate. It is obvious that the techniques associated with audience interaction comprise a large percentage of the formula for success. A good speaker can work around the weaknesses of their material, apply limited resources, overcome poorly packaged information, deal with time constraints, and still manage to get the point across well enough to produce the desired result - a happy and impressed audience.

By the same token, if the presenter must struggle with substandard material, difficult to manage tools, technology that does not work as planned, or inappropriate media formats, this situation can scuttle the effort to engage an audience as much as poor speaking techniques. Skillful application of visual aids allows the presenter to appeal to the audience on a variety of sensory levels. If you are an eloquent speaker, but your presentation is permeated with illegible, handwritten scrawling on an overhead projector or white board, the things being captured by the eyes become incongruent with the sounds reaching the ears. While you fumble with turning pages on a flip chart which contains information that is hard to see from the back of a room, or struggle to find the slides, programs, documents or locations of information on a disjointed computer based presentation, you are ensuring the need for you to compensate even more with your speaking talent.

Choosing the right tools for your presentation is a critical element of your success. You should always know ahead of time what sort of facility you will be working with, understand how your audience will be situated, and take the time you need to practice smooth interaction with all the visual aid devices you intend to use. Like performing in a theatrical production, your positioning, movements and stage presence should be as familiar as possible before you take center stage. Whether you are making a short sales presentation, or providing a week long training session, your audience will be quite sensitive to how much you ultimately struggle with visual aids and devices. Taking full advantage of the environmental influences is important to how well the information is received.

Packaging will always play a key role in the success or failure to reach an audience. By way of an analogy, if one person presents a valuable gift to you in a brown paper bag, and another offers you the same gift in a colorful, beautifully wrapped package, it is our nature to reach for the package that is most appealing. Even when the gift offered is identical in content, receiving it in a brown paper wrapper somehow diminishes its worth. You should avoid hastily prepared hand outs or information supplements that are not carefully prepared to appeal to the eye.

In recent years, computer based presentation aids have helped many people put together interesting and engaging visuals for projection to an audience. In working with this media, I truly enjoyed the extra zip I got from being able to demonstrate how a program works, or by showing a splendidly prepared sequence of slides in a PowerPoint presentation. One thing I did not enjoy about computer based visual aids was watching some presenters flipping through screen menus searching for the next element of their presentation, or struggling with starting up a program that did not seem to want to perform like the speaker was trying to illustrate that it should. I would find myself getting into the information set, only to find the rhythm interrupted by an interlude of fumbling and fiddling to bridge to the next point.

To overcome these limitations and choreograph a smoothly flowing presentation style that allowed me to maintain a good rhythm, I put together a control mechanism that allowed me to use one central interface to launch, sequence, and organize the separate elements into a congruent exhibition. The approach solved problems with interrupting my speaking to focus on beating the next level of information out of the computer, before continuing on with what I needed to relate. This method has worked well for several other people I have shared the tool with as well.

In putting together the right presentation style, solving issues with the tools you are using ahead of time will give you the confidence you need for resolving unanticipated problems you experience in front of your audience. By appealing to as many human senses as possible, your information will have a much better chance to be absorbed and appreciated by the audience. Since people learn through sensory input, relying only on speech to get a point across is limited. If you can devise ways to engage sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste into your presentations, you will be able to open up their receptors on all levels. They will absorb more information, and be able to retain it.

Director of Software Concepts BHO Technologists - LittleTek Center

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