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Presentations: It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it


Should you opt for web-based presentations or face-to-face? And what are the fundamental rights and wrongs of presentations? Carolyn Sheppard shares her experience on how to deliver a successful presentation - and outlines what's hot and what's not from a survey of trainers.

Early on in my career I used to prepare presentations for conference speakers. In 1985 we had an amazing piece of new technology - a camera we could attach to the PC that would photograph the screen. You could develop the film by hand with a portable unit and have brand new slides ready for your speakers in just over half an hour!

That was, at the time, an amazing technological leap forward. Nowadays, you can create presentations in a moment and can project them in an instant. How times change. For example, the most recent training session I attended was totally web-based.

Using WebexTM technology, we had a speaker on leadership seminar who we could see on cam, breakout groups where we shared information on a whiteboard and the opportunity to compare notes back in the main 'room'. We could discuss issues using the teleconference facility.

Even with the high level of interaction in this system, the key to keeping us engaged was the computer screen. The focus of the training was not the speaker so much, but the on screen presentation. The graphics used, the words presented, and the relationship of the visuals to what the speaker was saying. However, you could disengage (for example, check your emails or even exit the presentation) far more easily than in a live situation. In this form of presentation the focus was certainly shifted from the dynamism of the speaker (and she was an excellent one) to the quality and content of the presentation.

Web-based presentations for product demonstrations, technical training and sales presentations are an extremely powerful tool: delivering learning in easy to digest chunks using video and audio and following a learning path that the learner can control. But to use web-based presentations which are led by a trainer you need to apply different delivery skills.

Eye contact, body language, and audio and written prompts, all are removed by at least one degree for the audience and certainly more so for the presenter. You can see them, but they can't see you! You need to be aware that facial expressions are accentuated and that the delegates' environment is not your training room – it's their office and their computer.

The starting point with web-based training is to be technically secure – you have to understand how everything works (process), and have everything in place to make sure your delegates understand how the interactive elements work and exactly what is expected of them. A technological failure can cause even fantastic training to bomb.

Web-based seminars may be useful for virtual teams and multi-location events, but their effectiveness may be impeded by time differences, uncontrollable remote environments and other distractions.

Many even say that web- and technology-based training will never replace face-to-face delivery, but it certainly has a place and as the ease of use improves, it will be adopted more widely. Whichever way you train or present, it is important that the skills used are appropriate for the media you use.

Looking at presentation skills as a whole, I asked the training community their thoughts for this article. The feedback was varied and occasionally contradictory. I've included the contradictions because, quite simply, 'It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it'.

What's in and what's out? Results from a survey of over 80 trainers:

Photographs (quality)Clipart cartoons
Interactive graphics (animated)Static graphics
Three dimensional objectsTow dimensional objects
Fast slide transitions (webinar)Slow slide transition (webinar)
Slow slide transition (live)Fast slide transitions (live)
Single format transitionsMany different transitions
Many slides (webinar)Few slides (live)
No slides (live)Reading from slides
Less wordsMore words
Flipchart/interactive whiteboardsFlipchart
Doing – interactive, exercises, exploringWatching – passive audience
Technology-based training and seminarsTechnology-based training and seminars
Webinaring or podcasting the presentationVideoing the presentation
Using video clipsTurning your back on the audience
Questions and challengesFact recital
Multi-mediaReading off the slides
YouTubePresentation software
Stories/metaphorsToo many statistics
Q&A as you goQ&A at the end
Movement (audience and presenter)Inaction (audience and presenter)
Passion, enthusiasm, funFormality
Practice Practice Practice‘Fait ccompli’ Objectives
Accelerated learningShow and tell
‘Advertisements’ and other visual stimuli during rest periodsToo much information
Results and best practiceProcess information
Samples/Objects (physical)
Great, inspiring speakersSpeakers who think they can but can’t, speakers who just can’t
Relevant quotationsHeavy statistical data
Real time votingToo much theory
Feature film excerpts (with permission!)Stories about banks/financial institutions
Separately created handouts and post-event materialsHandouts that list slides with no explanation/context
Mood setting musicUsing music in a venue with no music licence
Learner centered deliveryElearning
Case studies

This does not by a long way go into all the 'rights and wrongs' for presentations. Indeed they are very open to interpretation. Interestingly enough time and time again respondents said 'Don't use slides at all'.

So, 'what's the next big thing?' Here's a summary of the best replies:

  • Alternative presentation software such as KenoteTM, PreziTM and InfoPathTM
  • Wearable technology – technology that interacts with the presenter physically
  • Mobile learning: using laptops, BlackberryTM devices, CCTV etc
  • Using on-line channels to enhance learning such as TwitterTM and FacebookTM
  • Gaming technology (projected games, interactive voting etc)
  • Virtual Life scenarios (eg Second LifeTM/SimsTM)
  • Visualisers (to project physical objects etc)
  • New technology gadgets (such as

    To sum it up, the key to a successful presentation is making sure to have the right delivery for the audience and content and, crucially, the right (and inspiring) presenter. Everything else is simply an add on.

    Carolyn Sheppard is director of The Complete Trainer Ltd, a training resources ecommerce company. She has been in marketing for over 30 years and directly in learning and development for over five years. There is further information on presentations collated from her research on her blog


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