Presentations – don’t send material in advance

I recently agreed to give a presentation at a project manager’s forum meeting. Without knowing the date, I completed the presentation and only then discovered that the meeting was on a day when I was away for a few days. Unable to deliver the presentation in person – one of only two items on the agenda – I asked another attendee if he would mind doing it.
When he agreed, I talked him through it over the phone so he would be comfortable with the material and the message I was trying to convey.
To my surprise, he then sent an email, with my slide deck attached, to all the attendees in advance of the meeting. Why, I wondered, would anyone do that, especially when it was intended that the material be presented with the audience in the same room?

There are two ways in which slide decks are created, depending on how they will be presented.

  • For reading. Because there will be no supporting talk, the slides need to be more detailed, to convey the same information by words alone. Since they don’t need to be visible from the back of a room, slides meant to be read at a desk or on a monitor may contain more words of a smaller font.
  • For presentation. Fonts tend to be larger and bolder with greater spacing. Sentences give way to bullet points with very few prepositions. They are meant to be snappy and easily remembered, but rely on the verbal – and body language – component to ensure clarity of understanding.
  • Now, considering that my slides were created with the second purpose in mind, sending the material in advance risks those who bother to read it either not getting the full picture or attending with a head full of questions, having already formed an opinion about the subject. The audience may be cynical or sceptical, in which case the presenter makes his own job very difficult. Alternatively some of the audience may just ‘get it’ and attend with their minds on other things; or worse, not attend at all.

    An effective presenter needs the focus of the audience to be on him, not elsewhere. Even distributing the material in printed form takes the audiences attention away from the presenter and onto a different point in the slide deck. If the material comes as a surprise, the presenter can lead the audience through the story outlined on the slides, to most effectively inform or influence, answering questions and concerns as they arise.

    About aterny

    Agile enthusiast and evangelist, DSDM practitioner, trainer and coach. Specialist in Agile project and programme management, governance and organisational transformation
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