Remember the story of the shoemaker’s daughters? The shoemaker in question was so busy filling orders for his customers that he didn’t notice that his own children were barefoot.
This problem happens to us communicators, too, We’re so focused on helping others communicate to employees that we don’t pay attention to how we come across.
Take presentations, for example. I recently attended an internal communication conference at which experienced communicators shared interesting insights. And I was surprised at how many presentations suffered from these common weaknesses:
- Lack of navigation. Too many communicators plunged into their talk without providing an agenda or contents page. They also failed to use simple navigation tools such as numbering (“5 ways we’ve improved communication”), eyebrow titles (indicating where they were in the narrative) or summation slides (“5 ways we’ve improved . . .”). This had the effect of setting audience members adrift; we didn’t know where we were in the story, where we might go next, or how it all would end.
- Too much content per slide. There were w-a-a-a-a-y too many words, jammed together, crowding each other for breathing space on a single slide. That meant the speaker talked to each slide for far too much time. After about 10 minutes on a slide, the impatient among us longed to grab the clicker to move things along.
- Not enough slides. This is the same problem as above, from a different angle. It was as if speakers thought they were limited to 18 or 20 slides, therefore they had to cram all 45 minutes worth of content to fit that quota. I wanted to tell them: “Hey, slides are free! Just divide one slide into two or three, and you’re already going a long way to improve your presentation!”
- Reading the text. A beginner’s mistake, yet several speakers read word-for-word from the text on the slides.
- A lack of visuals. If ever there was a medium that begs for photos, cartoons, drawings or other visuals, it’s PowerPoint. Yet most of the mediocre presentations contained not even one visual: just words in the form of bullets, tables, or paragraphs.
Am I being hard on these speakers? Absolutely. But these folks were all senior communicators, working for major corporations or consulting firms. They should be role models for presentation excellence, not poster children for how not to use PowerPoint.
This is especially important when you’re presenting to stakeholders or senior leaders. After all, how do you expect others to take your advice about presenting unless you exemplify best practices?