By Guy Clapperton
I’ve just been anglicising a book on business presentations and how to do them, from an American original, and found some interesting points. First, turning American English into British English is a pushover, it’s the cultural points that will make the difference to the book. Second, presentation work depends on a lot more than PowerPoint.
I once met an executive in a British software firm who had an appointment with Bill Gates himself, about how to integrate their systems into Microsoft Office. He and his chairman were ushered into an office by a PA and asked to get their PowerPoint presentation ready. PowerPoint? Said the executive. We were supposed to prepare POWERPOINT? They had about ten minutes before His Billness was due and in an insane scramble managed to throw something coherent together on the laptop. Bill walked in, sees the laptop, frowns, and says ‘You know, guys, I see a thousand presentations a year, can we just talk..?’ They then made a big show of shutting down the laptop and making ‘oh well, if we MUST..’ noises. The point being that if Bill Gates himself doesn’t want to sit in front of PowerPoint all day it doesn’t have to be the default choice for absolutely every occasion.
There will be times, though, when you’re in front of an audience or a group and actually need PowerPoint or some other presentation tool (hint: if you use something else, no matter how much you like it, it’s less likely than PowerPoint to be on someone else’s computer). At these times there are a few important things to bear in mind:
• Less is More. More than three points on a PowerPoint slide and you’ve actually put your whole argument up there. Your audience will hate it and anyway, if they’ve got all your ideas in writing in front of them why should they bother listening?
• Blue is the colour…except when you’re putting blue on blue for people to look at. It’s actually difficult to focus and this is why World War 2 Aircraft had blue undersides, so the enemy would find it difficult to hit them from the ground.
• Your host might not have a projector. Ask in advance. More seriously, I was once giving a presentation and the laptop supplied by the venue had a version of Microsoft Office that didn’t include PowerPoint. Luckily I’d brought my own laptop — moral: never trust the other guy’s equipment.
• If you’re using an Apple laptop you’ll need an adapter to connect it to a large monitor or projector. It came with the laptop, in the box. Betcha you’ve lost it.
Overall, however, the best advice is top remember the people before the technology. If it all breaks down, try winging it and talking to people instead — as long as you’re prepared, you might be pleasantly surprised.