Presenters and Slides. Who Syncs Who?: Conversation with Peter Watts

Thursday, March 14, 2013
posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 4:00 AM IST

Peter WattsPeter Watts helps sales people around the world to take to the stage with confidence, and with presentation content that makes the sale by directly addressing the needs of the audience. His weekly blog of ideas for presenters can be found at The Presenters’ Blog, and his daily Twitter feed of presentation skills tips can be followed @speak2all

In this conversation, Peter discusses how slides, presenters, and audiences sync to each other.

Geetesh: How important is it for a presenter to be synced to their slides.

Peter: When I was a schoolboy quaking about end-of-year exams, the teacher would always remind me that “the clue is in the question”; if I could sit back and look at the question, then the answer would be sitting there ready for me.

It’s the same case here. “How important is it for a presenter to be synced to their slides?” The answer is that it isn’t, and that it would be a horrible mistake for a presenter to ever attempt to be synced to their slides.

Since the invention of PowerPoint, a new generation of presenters has entered the business world. These presenters have only ever known presenting via PowerPoint, and the software has become synonymous with the act. A belief has taken hold that it can’t be a good presentation unless you have a good PowerPoint deck to deliver. The slides have become the presentation, hence the tell-tale clue within the question: How important is it for the presenter to be synced with their slides? It absolutely isn’t.

The slides must be synced to the audience.

Geetesh: Sometimes being synced to the slides can prevent presenters from being synced with their audiences, for example presenters use the content on their slides as a crutch, and rarely like to discuss something that’s not on their slides. Yet the audience may have some questions that differ from the slide content. How can a presenter provide a balanced presentation in such a scenario?

Peter: Again, there’s a clue in the question.

A presenter who is synced to the slides will inevitably drift from the audience, for a whole number of reasons:

  • Every audience is different, yet standard slide decks are one-size-fits-all
  • Over familiarity with “the deck” means presenters deliver by rote rather engaging with the audience
  • Being focussed on the deck will inevitably lead to more eye-contact with the screen behind you than with the people before you
  • A message is sent to the audience that they aren’t important enough for a customized delivery, and nobody likes being treated like cattle.

This final point, about treating audiences as generic groups, can lead directly to encouraging audience members to ask questions that are different from the slide content. This can be because they want to test the knowledge of the robotic presenter, or it can simply be because the presentation is completely missing their specific interest areas.

When I train presenters, the first thing we focus on is how to make every presentation specific for that audience. Start with a simple MindMap. If you’re not already familiar with the concept of MindMaps then I’d recommend any of the excellent books on the subject by Tony Buzan.

Write in the centre of your MindMap two considerations: a) who is the audience? b) what is the key message that I want them to take from the presentation?

Once you have those areas clear, brainstorm onto the MindMap all the topics that you could possibly wish to include in the presentation. Let your marker pen go crazy on the page, and if possible, use a flip-chart. You’ll need space!

Next, re-arrange all your ideas into three clear sections, each with three sub-sections. Scribble out anything extraneous that can’t be logically merged into your sections.

You now have a unique presentation structure created specifically for this audience, and because all the content came from your own mind and is linked directly to your audience and to your key message, there’s a much higher chance that it will be content that is relevant, and that you’ll feel confident delivering.

Only when you’ve got your structure mapped out, should you turn to your PowerPoint decks. Find slides that match the structure, and then build the presentation using the discipline that each slide must enable you at least three minutes of talk time.

When presenting, always remember who is the star. It’s you! Slides are simply the supporting cast, and they need to be synced to your style, not the other way around!

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1 Comment

  • A great pleasure to interview with you and the Indezine blog Geetesh. Thanks for inviting me to take to part.

    If any of your readers have any questions or thoughts regarding presenting, I'd be happy to hear from them.

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