Why do so many well-meaning people give such bad presentations? Last year Andy Goodman and Cause Communications sought to answer that question in Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes, an outstanding book that I can't recommend highly enough. (Ironically, I've been involved in planning a series of presentations this year, but I only just rediscovered Goodman's book because my wife and I are moving to a new apartment and sifting through all our belongings. Timing really is everything.) The title's emphasis on good "causes" stems from Goodman's work in the nonprofit sector, but his conclusions are broadly applicable in any industry.
Goodman's perspective is similar to Seth Godin's Really Bad PowerPoint, but he dramatically expands the scope of his critique with the help of data generated by 2,501 respondents to a 43-question online survey in Q1 2005. Here are Goodman's "Fatal Five," common problems that can derail a presentation, with comments from survey respondents:
- Reading the slides. ("Watching someone read PowerPoint slides is a form of torture that should be banned under the Geneva Convention.")
- Too long, too much information. ("Too many slides with too many words, too many points, too much data, too long, too didactic.")
- Lack of interaction. ("Presenters have a responsibility to mine [their audience's life and work experience], direct it, and facilitate the economical sharing of that information among the group.")
- Lifeless presenters. ("Even if I'm interested in the topic...if the speaker is boring, I'm easily distracted by other goings-on in the room like someone's cool shoes or outfit.")
- Room/technical problems. ("The frequency with which respondents mentioned these kinds of problems suggests that...presenters often do not anticipate them or fail to have a backup plan.")
But Goodman's respondents didn't just complain about bad presentations--they also told him what factors contribute to an excellent presentation. Their "Three Most Wanted" list:
- Interaction. ("Interactive presentations that create opportunities for the audience members to work together and with the presenter are almost always top notch.")
- Clarity. ("Clarity of three to four well-framed key points the speaker wanted the audience to take away, coupled with smart use of metaphors/anecdotes that helped drive them home.")
- Enthusiasm. ("Whether respondents used the words energy, passion, engaging, dynamic or lively, they all wanted the same thing: presenters who were enthusiastic about their topic and conveyed that interest to the audience.")
If an audience and a PowerPoint deck are in your future, "Bad Presentations..." is well worth your time.
And if you're a full-time employee at a nonprofit, foundation, government agency, or educational institution, you can get one free copy. (If you work for The Man, it's still just $17.50.)
UPDATE: A digital version of "Bad Presentations..." is available for free from Andy Goodman. Printed copies are no longer available from Goodman, but you can usually find a few copies on Amazon.