When it comes to giving presentations, you can divide people into those who use PowerPoint (or something like it) and those who don’t. Those who don’t can be divided into those who instead uses Word, Excel or something for their presentations (they don’t think they do but making a speech over an Excel spreadsheet is using Excel as a presentation program) and those who uses no programs at all. This latter group either does this as a conscious strategy (those are often the really good presenters) and those who just happen to be talking. This post is not about the people who doesn’t use programs for presentations. This is about the PowerPoint warriors. But they come in very different flavors.
Slides are expensive stuff
First we have the group who thinks that Microsoft charges by the slide numbers in the presentation. They tend to crank up as much text and tables and unreadable pictures as they can to cover up the background. You can recognize this group by “Well, you can probably not read this, but it says…”.
My slide show must have at least 50 slides
Then we have the group who just made as many slides as they possible could. Half of the slides makes no sense to the presentation and somehow you get the feeling that this presentation was made for ten different audiences. You can recognize this group by “Well, we don’t have time to go through this slide, but “ or “Hm, well, this is probably of no interest to you, but “
I need some support when I’m giving a presentation
This two groups are both linked to the group which needs some support when giving a presentation. They turn to the presentation and reads from it instead of giving the presentation themselves. You can recognize them from the back of their head because that is all you are going to see during the presentation. The worst ones are the ones who are actual pointing at the words like we cannot read. Or did I mistake the presentation with a karaoke exercise?
I have to much time and think PowerPoint effects are really fun
Believe me, I know that effects, pictures, etc can be really important tools for making a presentation remember able. But that’s when the effects had a purpose and was chosen deliberately to strengthen the message. Random text flying over the place does not make the message stick. The group here is probably the folks no one really knows what they are doing and you recognize them by the sensation of sea sickness after leaving the presentation.
So how do I get to the point?
The main problem I find is that these groups do not value the minds and the time of their audiences. Instead of preparing their message, they present an audience with the basic material for a presentation.
So, lesson number one is understand which message you want to present. Have a commander’s intent for your presentation. That is: if people don’t get anything else from the presentation, what do you want them to grasp. And then focus the presentation around that intent. Select your slides with care and make every slide mean something important. That does not putting in as much as possible on each slide. No, it’s having as little as possible on each slide but that the intent of that slide is clear to you and to the audience. If you follow that rule, you will learn your slides and you won’t have to read from them.
After I read Made To Stick, the number of slides in my presentations has lessened but it’s interesting to see that people can often visualize all of them after a presentation.
Knowing what you want to accomplish pays off.
In an earlier post, I discussed the importance of a Commander’s intent. Since I was introduced to the concept, this has brought me lots of insight and the power to ask the right questions to the project sponsors.
Let’s say that you have a project which has three objectives: one clearly operational (we need feature X), one clearly strategic (all our solutions should be Y) and a third which is somewhere in the middle. This is perhaps not that uncommon but often you don’t clarify that. But do think about if there are both long time and short time objectives, strategic or operational, etc.
And then, what you do is that you print these three objectives in front of the project sponsor and ask which of these matches the commander’s intent. That is if everything else goes wrong in the project: what is the one objective that we need to accomplish? If all plans fail, which objective do we turn to and work to meet?
In other words: is it better to miss the feature if we live up to the strategic objectives? Or can we disregard the strategy if we have to in order to get that feature.
It’s important to clarify this to all stakeholders from the beginning. There are always those who thinks that the strategic objectives that are most important and there are always those who thinks the features (functional or non functional) that are most important. But the one to make the call is the sponsor. He might not know this but if he don’t, you shouldn’t start the project.
One of the interesting things about agile methodologies is that when you read about best practice in other fields of "business", you can find the same stuff. I’m currently reading the excellent Made to Stick, about how you present a message to make it stick. A truly interesting book for anyone who think he’s got something useful to say. Mike Cohn stresses the need for a project/product vision. He uses the Geoffrey Moore’s template from Crossing the Chasm:
- For (target customer)
- Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
- The (product name) is a (product category)
- That (key benefit, compelling reason to buy)
- Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
- Our product (statement of primary differentiation)
So simple, and so powerful.
In the military, there is something called Commander’s intent, which have the same objective as the the Product vision: to make people understand why they are doing stuff. What is the objective. The definition, according to FM 100-5 (Field manual) from 1993, the Commander’s intent is:
It should be as short as possible and should be placed on top of every order. The reason is that if all plans fail or if something unexpectedly happens, the team should select the thing which bring them closer to the objective. These questions can be seen as the template for the commander’s intent, where the sub questions are meant to answer the superior question:
- What is the single, most-important thing that my team has to do during this operation?
- If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must X
- The single, most-important thing that we must do tomorrow is X