don’t look back

don't look backDon’t look back at your slides on the screen behind you, everyone else will. Face the audience for as much time as possible. Depending on the setup there may be a “comfort monitor” in front of the stage morroring the projected slides behind (above/beside) the speaker. Don’t look back at the projector screen as the audience will follow this visual clue. Constant cheching and re-checking is distracting from the message and its delivery. It will also affect pick up from fixed microphones. Don’t look back, look forward.

Text on slides will force a speaker, and their audience, to look at the slide. Use of this as a script or aide memoire will cause the speaker to constantly scan the screen. To do so will involve turning away from the audience, sometimes even craning one’s body into strange contortions if the screen is very high above the presenter. The best presenters never look at the main screen, they may not even appear to look at the comfort monitor. They maintain eye contact as much as possible with the audience.

Body language cues of a presenter looking at the projector screen will signal to the audience that they should also look at the screen. This may be important at certain times but if this becomes continuous the situation will arise, as often seen, of the presnter taking a side position at the front of the room, facing the screen, to allow the audience full view as though the presenter is of lesser value than the slides. This is incorrect, the presenter is the most important part of a presentation.

The Good Presenter has checked their slide deck before delivery and this should provide all the information required to confirm that each slide will be delivered as required, don’t look back to check; use the comfort monitor. If this is not available try not to be so obvious in this manoeuvre. Taking a position at one side, oblique to the audience and then moving as the slide changes allows a quick confirmatory glance as both the physical movement of the presenter and change of image happen together. Don’t look back.

The slide deck is supportive media (p2) The presentation is not based upon this but added to by it. The Good Presenter should speak to the audience and not to the screen. Don’t look back, the audience are listening to you.

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The Gettysburg Address

gettysburg addressThe Gettysburg Address was delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in memory of the fallen soldiers from the pivotal and bloody civil war battle fought there some four months earlier. The speech had been planned for 3 months, giving its author time to prepare and deliver an epic. The oration was delivered, without a script, over two hours. It composed over 15,000 words, evoked Greek mythology, American culture and various honourable battles. The audience was held in rapture through that time, many reduced to tears, a great presentation. The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Edward Everett. He was followed to the lectern by Abraham Lincoln.

Edward Everett was a renowned orator. His knowledge and insights of classical culture, Socratic structure and elocution had delivered him a reputation across the now United States of America. He was the keynote speaker. The crowd was at The Address to hear Everett. Lincoln, even as President, was not famous for his speeches. In his Gettysburg Address, Everett sought to educate, impress and contextualise the horrors of the war for the American people. An impressive message (p1) memorised and delivered with passion (p3) that captivated and moved the audience, surely a great presentation. Lincoln spoke for less than two minutes.

As a presenter, you may rightly be in awe of speakers on the stage before you. They may have achieved great things, have standing and reputation far beyond that which you believe you can aspire to. They may have wisdom and knowledge and be regarded by many as leaders in their field. The audience may have come principally to hear their piece. You may doubt your value in speaking and see your piece as smaller and less valuable in comparison. You, however, were invited to speak. Lincoln spoke less than three hundred words.

Lincoln spoke for his audience, not to them. He connected with them and gave them a simple message to take back to change their lives. The Gettysburg address changed America, possibly even the world. As a presenter, you may rightly see yourself as of lesser standing and eloquence than some of those on the stage before you. Your piece may be short and simple. Everett wrote to Lincoln in the months following the event saying, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” The next time you take to the stage, give your Gettysburg Address and change your world.

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great presentations

Great presentations are in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone agrees on what makes a great presentation any more than they agree on the best film (Gregory’s Girl), best alt-folk/modern-Americana band (The Barr Brothers) or best Paediatric Surgical Department (Sheffield Children’s Hospital). It is helpful to consider a presentation as the product of its constituent parts; a clear, memorable message (p1), supportive and non distracting media (p2) and engaging media (p3). There is however no accepted, verifiable or consistent assessment of what makes a great presentation.

great presentations

Great presentations should be the aim of every presenter. There is no value to an audience of a speaker who does not aspire to this. If the message means little to the speaker, it will mean less to the audience. What constitutes great however is very difficult to quantify as this is entirely a personal view. One audience member may already have knowledge of the topic, another distracted by the media and another engaged by the delivery. Each will report the value of the presentation differently. Other factors such as the previous speakers, time of day, even the quality of an imminent lunch will all affect the perceived value of what may or may not be a great presentation.

Formal conference feedback is not always a good indication of the quality of a presentation. This is due to the bluntness of the tool used, the huge variation of interpretation and, unfortunately, the difficulty involved in an audience giving negative feedback. Consequently the number of great presentations according to such feedback outstrips the opinion shared in the coffee lounge afterwards. Nor should a presenter rely on the comments from the floor during questions, “Thank you for your excellent presentation, I very much enjoyed it,” is as sincerely and valuable as the server at a fast food outlet advising you your choice of meal was “awesome”.

The best feedback comes from a trusted colleague in the audience. Immediate personal reflection is seldom accurate and importantly reflects the speaker’s level of anxiety and reflection on their preparation not the received delivery. A great presentation is the view of the audience and even a story that is complex, a media that fails and a delivery that stumbles may connect perfectly with an audience for reasons that are unclear. Great presentations are all about the audience.

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