If you’ve read Presentation Zen, you know that many speakers – without intending to do so – hide their message. In watching and making CPE presentations and board presentations for some twenty-five years now, I have observed that we unwittingly hide our message because we try to make the slide deck our whole presentation. It’s as though our slide deck is a chapter out of a college intermediate accounting book – chock full of facts, but too much to digest. And do we really believe that those attending will take those slides back to the office and study them?
My experience has been those slides end up in the office dungeon, never to be laid eyes upon. You have one chance to communicate – in the session.
It is the presenter’s duty to cause learning (rather than the attendees). I am well aware that some CPAs are present only to get their CPE credit (and little else – sorry if this sounds cynical, but I usually observe that 5% to 10% of attendees are reading the paper, working on their computers, or texting).
So how can presenters better engage the audience?
First let’s start with the slide deck.
1. Try to make slides as simple as possible.
I try to have no more than two points per slide, and I leave out references to professional standards (at least on the slides).
What happens when you see a slide that looks like it contains all of War and Peace? I think to myself, “Are you kidding? You want me to consume all of that in the next three minutes. Forget it. I will not even try.” And I begin to think about my golf game (which needs thinking about). “I will catch up with you on the next slide.” But then it happens again, and I revert to why I can’t putt.
Nancy Duarte recommends the glance test for each slide. “People should be able to comprehend it in three seconds.”
2. Include a picture related to the topic.
For example, if I am presenting to governmental auditors, I might create a slide that simply says Bribes with a picture of someone being bribed.
3. Then tell a story.
People love stories (and there are plenty to tell). If you have not audited a bribery situation, just Google bribes and you will find all the fodder you want. If you can’t find a story, use a hypothetical. You are trying to draw your audience in – then maybe they will put that newspaper down (my most triumphant moment as a speaker).
Engage your audience with questions? Yes, try to make them think. Then they will learn (at least we hope so anyway). Stories get the juices going; questions make them dig. And, if the audience is with you at this point, you now have dialog. This is when it gets fun. Dialog (as long as it is controlled) is a great part of a presentation. The person sharing is learning, the audience is learning, and, yes, I am learning.
4. My last point: Move.
Not too much, but at least some.
A statue is not the desired effect. Michael Jackson is also not the desired effect (moonwalking was never in my dancing repertoire anyway). But movement, yes. I like to walk slowly from side to side (without moonwalking) and will, at times, move toward the audience when I want to make an important point. And, no, I am not moving constantly.
Let me recommend Keynote if you have an Apple Machine; I use Keynote on my iPad. Recently I have started using Haikudeck which is free as a download and provides awesome pictures for your slides (I’m using Haikudeck on my iPad).
One More Point
If you need to provide detailed information, use handouts. Then, if you like, refer your audience to the information. CPE requirements do require that presentation material be substantial enough to prove the content is acceptable.