I was recently told about a wedding speech that was delivered in the form of a PowerPoint slideshow which, apparently, went down a bomb. PowerPoint? Going down a bomb? I was intrigued so I emailed the groom’s sister, who I knew, to find out more.
Firstly, the presentation was mainly pictures, and pictures, in fairness, is what PowerPoint does well. There were 25 photographs in all, spread over 22 slides. In all but a few cases, there was a single picture per slide. This contrasts with most work presentations where slides are more like posters than slides, with several thumbnail pictures competing for space with bullet points, headings, company logos and gaudy templates.
So what about the words on these slides? I counted them – interestingly there is no word-count tool in PowerPoint despite the plethora of bullet-points that comprise most presentations – and there were 77 words in total, which means an average of 3.5 words per slide.
To put this into context, I examined five random presentations that I had on my hard-drive, including one of my own from several years ago before I was enlightened, and the average slide word-counts were: 20, 21, 25, 39 and 62. Way higher, in all cases, than 3.5.
Of course, that’s not to say that words have no place in presentations but where possible the presenter should take care of the verbals and the slides should take care of the visuals, be they pictures, graphs, diagrams, animations or videos.
Use the screen to energise the audience not put them to sleep. And, where possible, show one thing at a time.
Not only were the wedding slides visual, they were well timed. Each was essentially a visual punchline. In a presentation, you should only bring slides in when you need them and get rid of them when you are done, and due to the simple, clear, one-at-a-time nature of this presentation, that principle was followed very closely. The slides weren’t decorations, they were punctuation marks in the stories that were told.
Length is another important factor in a presentation and again there were lessons to be drawn from the wedding speech. Accurate figures are available from the groom’s sister who, like many others, was taking bets on the length of the speeches, and this one ran just over fifteen minutes. This is quite long for a wedding speech but is a lot shorter than many presentations and certainly shorter than a lecture. Also, given that it was actually engaging, time would not have weighed heavy on the audience.
Of course the main reason the wedding presentation went down well was humour. It followed the classic comedy sketch format where a familiar scenario – a date, a job interview, a church service – is portrayed it in stoic detail only to be subverted with something absurd at the last moment. The wedding-speech-as-business-presentation conceit is funny because most people expect business presentations to be dull. And yet this one wasn’t? Which should surely make you think that maybe the other presentations don’t have to be?
The key thing here, as with all successful presentations, is to observe the features that make a presentation work and then try to make them work for you. Images, timing, stories, clarity, humour, emotion, brevity: these virtues of the wedding speech apply equally to all presentations. You don’t have to be funny to give a good presentation but you should certainly try to avoid being dull. Surely?
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New book, Awful Presentations, now available.