Sitting around the campfire on a cold Gondwanaland winter’s evening, what did ancient man do to convey information to his fellow hunter-gatherers? Did he crank up the projector and take his peers through the latest wildebeest hunting strategy slideshow? No. He was way smarter than that; he looked at his delegates around the campfire and simply had a conversation.
We know that storytelling was central to all information transfer when ancient man sat down at night and went through the day’s events. Fast-forward to modern man and our various conveyances of information… what do we often do? Well, we push people into darkened meeting rooms and convey our valuable information via slide presentation, turning our backs on our audience and “presenting”. Good idea? No, it’s a really bad idea.
What is the purpose of presenting information? It’s for people to learn and to garner lessons for future “hunting trips”. Information is not just about data transfer – information is learning. Effective presentation is the same now as it was 10,000 years ago – it is an exchange of information between willing participants.
The power of the voice
Personally, I have spent far too many hours propped up at the rear of a conference room watching presenters file through their 60-slide presentation in a vain effort to squeeze as much information into a delegate’s brain as possible. It is essentially a waste of time but, more importantly, it’s a wasted opportunity. Here is the chance to gather your delegates around your “campfire” and engage with them. Engagement is the touchstone of success.
At a recent meeting to discuss a client’s upcoming conference, I advised their leadership team to depart from their “norm” and dispense with PowerPoint completely. Instead, I suggested, hire a skilled facilitator and adopt an interview-style process whereby the facilitator asks the questions and the presenter provides the answers. Rather than showing a series of graphs on a screen, you simply impart the information via an exchange between two human beings. Our brains are wired for conversation; supplement this with body language and eye contact, and hey presto! People unconsciously get what you want them to hear – they connect, they engage.
Our brains feed off conversation; when you crank up a 60-slide presentation, they go on a diet! With such a complex environment of exchange, it is little surprise that the delegate switches off and ponders heady questions like “I wonder what’s for lunch?”
We need to get back to basics here. What are we really trying to achieve when we meet? It’s about one person transferring knowledge to a group of people, and the perception that the audience has of the presenter is absolutely key to the success of this transfer. Remember, the end goal is not about the presenter but the receiver – therefore everything must be designed around the receiver and his or her needs. Many presenters spend hours creating PowerPoint slides without a thought for the audience. Stick to a few simple points and repeat them; don’t try to fill their heads with reams of information – it just won’t work. Great conversations enhance an audience’s perception of each presenter through a created common connection. Effective communication after all is a two-way street. And remember, he who has the most flexibility controls the system – if you can interpret their reactions and react accordingly, your chances of successful communication improve dramatically.
Proof the of the pudding
At Veritas Event Management, we understand that a skilled facilitator is crucial to this form of presenting sans PowerPoint.
For the aforementioned client conference, we elected to work with Australian TV personality Andrew Daddo. Andrew commented, “While slides are great for charts and graphs, ultimately it is the human experience – the art of conversation – which has enduring appeal.” Rarely have I seen a conference audience so buoyant and so engaged.
Let me end by providing you with some delegate feedback:
“It was enjoyable to have the session in another format, rather than Death by PowerPoint – thanks.”
“A totally different approach that conveyed the information in a specific way that was high on engagement. LOVED it! Minimal PowerPoint was much appreciated.”
“Thoroughly enjoyed the fresh and entertaining delivery of our annual company update. Very funny and a great start to the conference.”
“The concept was excellent and lots of fun, with information being communicated in a very creative way.”
Eugene Kennedy is managing director of Sydney-based Veritas Event Management. He can be reached at email@example.com