“_______, we have a problem.”

apollo 13 2Should the name of your organization fill in the blank? On April 14th, 1970 during the Apollo 13 mission, astronaut Jack Swigert uttered the famous words “Houston, we’ve had a problem”.  In the movie Apollo 13 (1995) it was changed to “Houston we have a problem”.  Either way you word it, I think that many organizations may have a presentation problem.

This was highlighted to me earlier this summer.  I had the opportunity to give a presentation skills workshop to a group of corporate communications professionals.   Before the session I sent out a pre-workshop questionnaire (see my previous post). The response rate was excellent – 21 of 35 people responded. Of the questions/responses, there were a number that stood out to me. Certainly the responses to one question said it all:

1. How would you rate the presentation experience at your organization?

The choices were excellent; good; not bad; and usually pretty boring.

The responses were excellent 0%; good 19%; not bad 43%; and usually pretty boring 38%.

So 81% of presentations in this organization are either not bad or usually pretty boring according to the communication professionals who work there.  Terri Sjodin discusses designing memorable presentatons in her book New Sales Speak.  She is a Certified Speaking Professional, a bestselling author, and a recent inductee to the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame.  She says that we remember the great presentations, and the terrible ones, but not the average ones. I couldn’t agree more. So if a high percentage of your presentations are “average”, they are probably not memorable, that means you are wasting a lot of time and effort…Houston we have a problem.  Of course this is a problem that can be remedied by providing some presentation design training, some hard work, and a willingness to “fix” the problem.

For the crew of Apollo 13, fixing the problem was a life and death situation. Of course presentations are generally not that critical, but they are important. What’s also important is the amount of time and effort that goes into putting them together and delivering them. No one has the luxury of wasting either. Do a quick survey of your colleagues; you may have a problem.

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring

Webinars: watering down the wine

wine1I wonder how much water you would add to a glass of wine before you couldn’t taste the wine anymore.  I expect that if you have a big, bold red wine it would take more water than if you have a lighter white wine.

This analogy can be applied to webinars and presentations. In my opinion, webinars are watered down versions of presentations. Many of the important nuances of human communication are missing in a webinar, like body language, facial expression, the interactions between audience members and even the discussions at the coffee break. The presenter cannot gauge the audience’s response, nor can the audience fully “hear” the enthusiasm of the presenter without seeing them.  Video webinars may be an improvement but my experience thus far is limited.

So why do they exist?  Is their role to enhance communication or save money?  I think they exist primarily to save money and to add convenience (save time). Saving money and time are good things for all of us, but it is almost impossible for a webinar to have the same impact as a live presentation.  Research indicates that an audience only remembers 1 to 3 things from a live presentation; what happens when you water it down? Studies have shown that during webinars people do email, work on other projects or talk on the phone as they “participate”.  I certainly have even been guilty of that! It is unlikely that most webinar presenters even have a chance at getting the audience’s full attention.

In addition to distractions, webinars can have issues like technical glitches, poor phone lines or slow internet connections. The most recent webinar that I “attended” had a new issue – the speaker had to talk over the music that was playing when one of the participants put us on hold.

Webinars are less than ideal for the sharing/transfer of information, but for topics which are persuasive like sales presentations and selling important ideas, they are even more challenging.  If you are planning one, ask yourself if it is really necessary: could a written report be used instead, or is the topic important enough for a live presentation?  If you do decide to have a webinar (sometimes it is a necessary evil) make sure your presentation is well designed and rehearsed (a big bold red wine).

What do you think about webinars?

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring.

Is your presentation a futon?



A couple of years ago I was explaining two of our medical imaging products to a hospital administrator.  I mentioned that one was a “dedicated” system for specific procedures and the other one was a “multipurpose” system.  She immediately commented on the multipurpose system, “Oh I see, it’s like a futon!”  I asked her what she meant and she said it’s in-between, like a futon, “Not really a couch and not really a bed.”

A lot of presentations visuals that I see are like futons – not really a document (not enough detail) but not really presentation visuals (too much detail); they are caught in-between. While “multipurpose” may work for some things, presentation visuals are not one of them. You may only have one opportunity to present your idea, concept or product; you don’t want to water down your message with dual-purpose visuals. So how can you avoid having “futon” presentation visuals?

It helps to use the right software for the right application. For example, if you need to send information to a group or to produce a handout, use Microsoft Word (or equivalent) instead of PowerPoint.  Using Word allows you to use a document format … you can write in complete sentences and provide more detailed explanations (instead of abbreviating content into bullet points on PowerPoint slides). If you feel you must use PowerPoint because it’s easier to include images and other visuals, then write it as you would a document and send it out in PDF format. That way everyone knows it’s meant to be a document.   But use different slides for your presentation.

You can also turn your presentation visuals into notes. I sometimes rework my presentation visuals (in PowerPoint) into notes. I add more detailed explanations and edit them down into a “readable” notes package.  I then convert them into “2-slides per page” PDFs so that no one mistakes them for presentation visuals.  It takes a bit more work but I can at least avoid making a futon.

As Garr Reynolds says “Slides are slides, documents are documents; they are not the same thing.”  And a  futon is not really a couch, or a bed.

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring.