The Bar Is Set Extraordinarily Low

Most presentations do not trigger openly aggressive behavior in an audience, psychotic fantasies of ritual mutilation of the presenter, or the hope that perhaps something in the room—- either a furnishing, a piece of equipment, or a person—-will spontaneously burst into flames.

Presentations are what people have come to expect them to be, and little more— a convenient container for presenters to throw everything they can think of, with talking points fully detailed and projected onto an adjacent wall, and then the invitation to the audience to sift through the salvo of words-they-hear and words-they-see for the tiny amount of information that is actually important to remember.

When I go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, I know I am about to stand in a long, slow moving line and a irretrievable piece of the time I have left on this planet will be unfairly taken from me, and there is nothing I can do about, unless I am willing to commit the rest of life to walking.

When I enter a conference room and see an LCD projector crouched and ready to go, I set my expectations low, and I lower them further still, if the first slide I see is a multi-bulleted prose-preamble in 12 point type.

Ask most people who just sat through a presentation, replete with a 20 slide document they had to read from 25 feet away, and they will say that the presentation was OK, and pretty much like every other presentation they have seen or will probably ever see in their lifetime.

It included fully-formed sentences that often replicated—word-for-word— the script that the presenter was mouthing, as well as a cluster-bombing of charts and graphics, whose one or two important conclusions were eventually visible to those who squinted. The slides were identical to the review handouts the presenters passed out before he or she began, so the audience, if it got impatient, could read ahead, though couldn’t leave the meeting until the presenter caught up.

Most people do not expect much from presentations, and they are seldom disappointed that this expectation was unmet. As a long as it is not a disaster, a presentation is considered a success. This is how it has been seen since the beginning of time.

But with the bar set so low, anyone with even the even the most basic skills of content structure and storytelling, anyone with a few tips of how to use visuals for clarity/ emphasis/attention/retention, anyone who has applied a handful of Best Practices, and anyone who has been warned about the obvious and ridiculously-simple-to-sidestep-pitfalls that beleaguer most presenters, will surprise and impress an audience.

It will not take much work to be better than the next-guy.

When you can confound expectations, the result will be a more effective presentation that an audience will sit forward to hear.

Be even a smidge better than they expect, and you will own the room.

In the land of the mediocre, that which is “just-a-little better” is king.

© Copyright 2014. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved

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