Sometimes, people make the mistake of thinking that by adding more mediocre work, we can achieve better results. Quantity does not compensate for quality. Unnecessary information is distractive and reduces the impact. Limits are often set for presentations (e.g., pages in a RFP or length of time for an investor pitch), both for the audience (less to read/listen), and to focus the presenter on understanding what’s necessary for a WINning presentation- one that’s focused on What’s (Really) Important Now). For me this issue comes up in training all the time.
3M did a study with Wharton many years ago showing that presentations with visuals increase recall as much as 5-fold. They also found that presenters were consistently rated as more interesting, professional, better prepared, etc. I explain to students that the real reason for the second finding probably has to do with the quality of workmanship that goes into finding just the right images to make a point. I know I spent lots of time sifting through different images to get just the right ones – and during this process, my mind is working on the nuances that I want to make and the implications that audiences can draw.
One result is that I focus clients on using only a limited number of slides when making Board presentation. In most cases, Boards have already seen the original presentation before the meeting; so rather than wasting everyone’s time and good will by repeating it, they highlight the key points in one or two slides and then focus the meeting on a discussion over one or two slides, and not a full presentation. Therefore, last week, to help a CEO get what he really wanted from the Board – buy-in for new strategic directions, we agreed that he would highlight the point he had already made, gain approval, and then discuss the real issue – strategic direction – with no more than three new “discussion-focused” slides.
Interestingly, Morten Hansen, tells a similar story about a presentation to a CEO in Great At Work: How Top Performers Do less, work Better and Achieve More. He was asked to present to an executive committee on an issue, and the CEO told him to present the proposal in one slide. He struggled to reduce the number to 15, then four, and with painstaking attention to one “color-coded, hourly calendar of the program”. As a result, the CEO and Hansen spent 45 minutes discussing the program in depth (instead of making a long winded presentation about it), and at the end the CEO “ remarked on how productive the meeting had been!”
In sum, focus presentations on delivering quality discussions that facilitate the decisions you want made. Eliminate clutter; present what’s important for the decision’ less IS more…. And you’ll deliver a winning presentation!
What’s your experience? Share it with us.
Jerry Cahn, PhD,JD. is a NYC Vistage Chair & Chairman of the Presentation Excellence Group. He can be reached at 646-290-7664, email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org.