Friday, 28 February 2014

If you must use notes for your business presentation, here are the options

“I’ll do a deal with you. As long as you can deliver your opening and closing without notes, you can do what you like in between”. That was how I described in my most recent post the way that I start to wean the business presenters I am coaching off the use of notes.

So what form of notes should they use in the middle sections of their presentations? Let’s look at the options:

1. Full script - Definitely not a good idea unless you have a really compelling reason such as lawyers insisting that delivery needs word-perfect precision to avoid litigation. The only time I have ever had a full script to hand was for the delivery of an address at my father’s funeral – I simply couldn’t be sure that my emotions wouldn’t get the better of me.

Every business presenter knows that reading from a script is to be avoided and yet many of the people I coach arrive with closely-typed sheets of A4 paper.  This is marginally preferable to 56 sheets of printed out PowerPoint slides, but neither so-called ‘aid’ is actually helpful to the presenter. The reason they give for carrying a script is that “I might freeze”; having focused on the potential to freeze, invariably that’s exactly what happens. They look down at their copious notes and are none the wiser – because they can’t begin to find where they should be!

So we establish the need for something smaller and less ‘flappy’. With a touch of intended innuendo for the sake of memorability, I introduce them to the benefits of ‘small and stiff’ as we start to talk about cards, but even this usually needs a step-by-step approach.

2. Set of cards – This is intrinsically good because, if you have not already done so, it forces you to carve up your presentation into series of segments, with one card for each segment. Then you need the discipline to restrict yourself to five rows and about five words across each row. The cards then cue you to the key points and even the moments that require a pause as you move to a new point and, especially, a new card. If you number the cards and move them to the left each time you complete one you are all set – as long as you have the physical space to lay your cards. Many people fall at this final fence, fumbling their cards due to lack of space and even dropping them on the floor.

3. Simple ‘map’ card – The ideal solution. Assuming you know your subject matter – and if you don’t what are you doing talking about it? – all you really need is the simplest prompt so that a brief glance enables you to cover off all the main points, get them in the right order, and get back on track if you freeze. And the good news is that all this should fit onto one – probably A5-sized - card.

Here (see left) you can see a map-style card that I made for myself. The situation here was not that I was unsure of what I would say, nor that I had a fear of freezing. The challenge was that I had been invited onto the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 and been given just three minutes to talk about how I apply the Rules of Magic to business presentation skills. I had never previously done this in anything less than 40 minutes so I had to be absolutely crisp and concise about the points I wanted to make. And if Chris asked me for examples of applying the rules I had no time to rack my brain as to what might work effectively on radio – I needed instant responses, which I listed (see right) on the reverse of the card. It clearly worked because it led to bookings in several different European countries and many enquiries about the availability of a book, which I eventually answered with the publication of Presentation Magic.

That’s all you really need to know about notes if you are simply standing up and speaking, but of course most of us are expected to use at least a degree of PowerPoint when making business presentations. If so, it is essential that you know what slide is coming up next and cue it with confidence and in sync with what you are saying. How do you achieve that without a bunch of PowerPoint print outs?

If you have an Apple laptop loaded with either PowerPoint for Mac or Keynote you already have the solution and may not even realise it. In either of these programmes click ‘View’ and select ‘Presenter View’ ('Presenter Tools' for older versions) and your screen will give a display like the one below. 

Rather than simply displaying what your audience can see, the screen shows both the slide being projected and the next in line. The Notes section can be displayed in the size most convenient to you; the full run of slides displays at the bottom so that you can pick and choose slides seamlessly; and clocks show both current and elapsed time. This facility is absolutely invaluable to the presenter, but is still difficult to find on PCs; it is one of the main reasons I use Macs.

I said up front that I wean people off their notes gradually and there two reasons for this. First, I put a lot of emphasise on working on the structure and content of their presentation, often re-ordering it and taking a lot out. The result is that it has a much more natural flow. They are speaking from their heart rather than being driven by some slides, so they don’t need a bunch of reminders about what to say!  Second, simply knowing that the safety net of some simple notes is there invariably instils enough confidence to mean that you are not going to need it. Indeed, that is why I refer to my map-style prompts as 'Confidence Cards'.

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