feature article

The Globe & Mail - Report on Business Magazine 
excerpt Advertising supplement
February 2000

If the word sends you diving under the boardroom table, our guide to making effective presentations might help. It all comes down to being prepared, having the right tools and practice, practice, practice. By Gordon Arnaut

Anyone who has ever wilted in front of an audience knows how intimidating public speaking can be - and why delivering a business presentation is often one of the most dreaded tasks in the corporate world. But the demands of business and the onward march of technology have made presentations more indispensable than ever. In such vital areas as sales and marketing, corporate training, shareholder meetings, trade shows and conferences or as part of the monthly staff meeting, knowledge workers are increasingly called upon to deliver more and better kinds of presentations.

Yet despite the proliferation of presentations in the fabric of organizational life - and the profusion of new technologies for creating and displaying visual aids - few people seem to have mastered the skill of creating and delivering truly compelling presentations. Instead of cheers, business presentations are often greeted by yawns - and even snores. Fortunately for audiences everywhere, most presenters realize they need help: a recent OpinionLink online survey conducted for Presentations Magazine found that 90 per cent of presenters admit that they need to improve their presentation skills.

For decades, the requisite visual aid of the business presentation has been the slide show, although in recent years computer presentation software has largely supplanted photographic film slides and overhead transparencies. The idea is still the same, though, with individual frames, or "slides," as the basic building block in presentation programs. This makes it easy for anyone to whip up a computer slide show in a matter of minutes, using popular presentation programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Corel Presentations. Of course that doesn't mean the result won't put the audience to sleep.

"Everyone has sat through a presentation with just hideous visuals," notes Trish Green, a Toronto-area presentation skills specialist who teaches business presenters the art of creating powerful visuals. "The most common thing I see people bring in are slides with nothing but words on them, which are basically their speaking notes. What happens is the audience is reading their presentation, so why bother? That's not a presentation, that's an insult to the audience."

The first step in turning such a disaster into an interesting and effective presentation is to develop a structure, typically in outline form, that clearly defines the essential message of your presentation and includes all the points you want to communicate. Next you should create a set of pictorial visuals for the slide show, using images, graphics, line art and pictures that complement the oral component of the presentation. To some extent the availability of easy-to-use slide show software has influenced presenters to reverse those steps, which typically results in a poorly conceived presentation. "You never start by developing your visuals first," says Green. "You develop your visuals after you have developed your message and built the structure of your presentation. Your visuals enhance your message - they are not your message."

Green, who coaches presenters from company presidents on down, offers a half-day training program for creating visuals, using the tools in PowerPoint and clip art from the Internet. "The biggest part of it is understanding the concepts of design, as well as being able to use the software," she says. Or, if the client prefers, she can create the visuals herself. Green typically uses the clip art that comes with PowerPoint, but she also relies on downloadable art sources on the Internet, as well as photographs that are scanned in.

"It's a very creative process," says Green. "What your mind's eye sees you are able to create."

more information

2000 Trish Green www.trishgreen.com Toronto-based presentation skills specialist, public speaker, trainer, columnist and publisher t'greetings, an electronic newsletter for business presenters.


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