No caption required

In a scientific article an illustration or a figure is accompanied by a caption. There is no caption required in a presentation. Images should exist by themselves without a complex description. Conversely a slide and in fact the whole of the p2 should be useless on its own without some explanation. In a presentation the caption is delivered by the presenter not the slide. Understanding this concept will help presenters develop presentations where no caption is required.

no caption required

Part of the problem with slides in a presentation is that presenters feel the need to add more and more detail to a slide in order that it might be understood on its own. Titles, details, description, explanation, references, icons and the like are added adding to the visual complexity and detracting value with each addition. An image should be able to stand alone; no caption required.

It is clear though that adding a word or two may alter the meaning of an image completely. The value of this should not be underestimated nor the dramatic value of that word appearing on the image after some time. (This can be achieved with animation of duplication of an image, the second with the word superimposed.) Such annotation is often oblique or challenging rather than purely descriptive. If one presents a picture of a wall, it is unnecessary to add a description; no caption required.

Data images and in particular graphs should be handled differently in a presentation from a publication. They are different media. The context of an image in a presentation should be immediately obvious, in a publication a caption is required. Explanation however may be used as a replacement for a title aiding prompt interpretation; no caption required.

A slide cannot stand alone. It should fit in context with the delivery, add meaning and not distract, no caption required.

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On pink elephants

The mind is a very strange thing and sadly it doesn’t always respond in the way we would like it to. Here is simple example. Close you eyes and do NOT think about pink elephants. It’s like that with body language.The more a presenter thinks about body language, the worse their body language becomes. And as sure as elephants are pink, trying not to think about your body language is like the pink elephants currently dancing dancing through your consciousness in a scene from Fantasia.



There is an idea that circulates the presentation community that the majority of meaning from a presentation is derived from body language and only 7% comes from speech. The Mehrabian myth simply isn’t true. Except in very, very specific situations. Of course delivery is important but it is not a mime show, it’s the product of the story, media and delivery. Words really are the most important part of our presentation. Body language has an effect but not 93%.

A defensive stance, huddled behind the lectern, holding on for grim death and staring intently at the monitor tells the audience only of fear and devalues the message. Similarly the presenter who moves constantly around the stage like a caged animal will negatively affect their reception. Trump hands, choppers and mixers are unaware of what to do with one’s hands and can even become hypnotising in their own right. It is important to be in control of the message our body is sending.

Yet the challenge to simply “be natural” on stage is effectively the pink elephant problem; the harder one tries to be natural the more wooden one becomes; simple strides across the stage can appear as complicated as Japanese Kabuki and even trying to stand still may overwhelm the already busy mind of many a presenter. Being natural appears entirely unnatural. This is where effective practise is successful. Practise is not simply recitation but purposeful, recorded, reflective rehearsal with review. A smart phone or a helpful friend will advise but change requires positive steps and further rehearsal not simply trying ignore the elephant. Presentation is a performance, not a reading and effective practise will dramatically improve it.

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The enemy of good is perfect

Descartes, apparently, popularised this aphorism: “The enemy of good is perfect.” As with all good philospophy, the longer one thinks about such a concept, the deeper the understanding becomes. It is useful to consider this in the preparation, delivery and reflection of presentations.


enemy of good

In the construction of a presentation balance is essential. One should spend a good amount of time on each section, p1, p2 and p3. Many presenters short change the p3 time by spending too much time in the preceding planning and construction sections. The value to the audience is in the complete package and whilst improvements may be wrought in story, supportive media by further work it is more important that the delivery is practised. The enemy of good is perfect in preparation.

No presentation is ever perfect. In fact, the best practise session may be better but it is important during delivery to remember that the best version of the presentation the audience will receive is the one being delivered. The audience has no opportunity to review plans, scripts, better slide sets or previous practised versions; the presentation delivered is the best presentation. Whilst a presenter may be disappointed by a flaw in the story p1, a formatting issue with the p2 or a lapse in the delivery p3 the good presenter must move past that and focusing on continuing to deliver as good a presentation as possible. The enemy of good is perfect in delivery.

Reflection on the value of a presentation by a presenter is often based on self reflection. This is an error. As discussed above the presenter may have views of what should have happened but the audience are those who deliver proper reflection. Sadly some presenters hold the former approach and fail to see how good a presentation actually was in their pursuit of how perfect it might have been. This is unhelpful. A trusted and pre-warned ally in the audience is of value after the event to help in a more structured and formal technical debrief but it is important not to devalue a presentation simply because the presenter didn’t feel it was perfect. The enemy of good is perfect in reflection.

No presentation is ever perfect. Whilst this should encourage practise and reflection and endeavour to improve it is important not to sacrifice practise in pursuit of perfect construction; not to sacrifice delivery in the face of a mistake or to sacrifice praise and audience value in pursuit of personal excellence. Perhaps good is actually pretty amazing, just not perfect?

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What should I do watching a bad presentation?

bad presentationSadly, with the desire to improve one’s presentations comes the realisation of how poor many presentations really are. With the connection that Twitter brings and the ability to receive wisdom from conferences far away also comes the feed of disastrous slides, the complaint of meaningless presentations and awful delivery. The “mute” function is easily deployed on Twitter, but what to do if you are actually there, faced with “that” presentation.

It is important to recognise that the presenter probably doesn’t know any differently. We learn our presentation styles from copying others principally and in the same way the fashion of tiny font references and pie charts are sweeping the presentation world so too bad habits are promulgated amongst those who know no better, aspire to be as good as those around them and invest huge amounts of time and effort to deliver “that” presentation, probably directed to do so by well meaning seniors. No one intentionally gives a bad presentation.

The message of a presentation, p1 is always there, even if buried under data. Try to focus solely on the speaker, listen carefully to their words and don’t be distracted by the supportive media that is usually overwhelming. Focus on the presenter and their delivery p3 and that will block the p2. Try to observe the structure and then define the key message. With that, think of one simple question you might ask if the chance arose. This will encourage you to consider the message and how you might deliver it differently.

Faint praise is no praise at all but effective critique may help an inquisitive presenter to improve. Consider the presentation you have received, its key message and the effort put into constructing the piece. Avoid the cliched response but consider how you might encourage the presenter if they sought your advice. Structure your query itself with a question offering your view on what you found a challenge and asking asking “why”. Remember no one sets out to deliver a bad presentation and we can only aspire to the examples we are aware of. Perhaps offer support for a future presentation, direction to this website and one specific piece of advice. The journey to better presentations starts usually with small steps and encouragement, not criticism.

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Single image per slide

When constructing a slide use only a single image. The image should add to the message that is being delivered but not be the message itself. A few words can add meaning but there is no need for a title. As for rings, there can only be one image.

single imageIt is not possible to look at more than one image at a time. Placing multiple images on a slide is therefore very distracting. Even vocal direction to a specific images within a slide will not reduce this confusion and the value overall is lost. Digital slides are free and there is no need to put multiple images together.

The p2 is supportive media. Images allow the spoken message p3 primacy where text competes and will overwhelm. A complex image or multiple images will draw attention from the speaker and the message. An image must therefore be simple, single and easily interpreted.  Interpretation is always about context. The context is best established by the narrative but can be altered and deepened by the addition of a few words. There is no requirement though to give a title to every image or slide.

The purpose of the media is to support the message. The message must be able to stand alone. Consider the purpose of every slide and never add more than one image.

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