As communication consultants and trainers, we have noted an ever increasing need for presentations skills training in both national and international organizations over the past 14 years. In this study, we wish to provide our audience with points to consider when giving their own presentations, evaluating other presenters or providing training in this area.
We define a Presentation as a short (15-20 minutes), unidirectional communicative activity dealing more with concepts than excessive details and that goes from the presenter to the audience and should NOT involve direct questions/answers to or from the audience. This can be, and often is, followed by another activity known as a “Meeting with Slides”.
The traditional “Meeting with Slides” is a longer (40-120 minutes), more detail-focussed, omnidirectional, verbally participative Communicative Activity which some people mistakenly call a “presentation” and usually includes questions/answers from audience members to/or from the presenter and frequently involve a detailed analysis of financial data using templates.
Many trainers and presenters tend to mix the two elements together into what they call a “a presentation” which is often responsible for causing many of the problems identified in this study. We believe that it is much more logical to give a structured overview first and then, if necessary, go into the detailed analysis afterwards. Obviously, once the audience understand the global context and structure of the presentation, it is much easier for them to understand the data and focus on the data in the given context.
These two communicative activities mentioned above have different rules of behaviour; audience / presenter expectations; different purposes and frequently, different ways of presenting the information.
This study has focussed only on communicative activities that the respondents considered “Presentations”. However the results can also be considered relevant to “Meetings with Slides”.
The initial objective was to identify the main causes why audience members disconnect and stop paying attention during presentations so that we could train our learners in the most appropriate ways to avoid these errors and provide a greatly increased communicative effectiveness to our clients. We defined “disconnection” as being when the person stops listening; starts having parallel conversations (with the person sitting beside them); starts checking emails; starts using their laptop (or tablets) or any other activity that impedes them from playing close attention to the content of the presentation.
Dates of Studies:
1. August, 1995 to December, 2002. (Inclusive)
An initial study with users of OverHead Projectors (O.H.Ps) and pens was conducted between 1995 and 2000 mainly in Spain, France, Italy, USA, England with 1,200+ respondents. The presentations were given in various languages. This study served as the basis for the one being presented here. The results from the first study were similar to those obtained in this one.
2. January, 2002 to December, 2011. (Inclusive)
The data in this study has been collected from users or receivers of presentations made with various versions of PowerPoint (97, 2000, XP, 2003, etc).
General respondent profile:
Ages ranged from 24 to 60+ years old.
Employed in a range of organizations including multinational health care, medical devices, telecommunications, mass consumer products, food & drink, consultancy, car hire, etc.
Respondents’ positions: From President, Managing Director, Senior Directors down to employees in Sales, Marketing, R&D, Quality control, I.T., Technical posts, etc. Also included were other professionals such as Doctors, Scientists, Lawyers, etc. In fact, anyone who needs to communicate effectively via presentations both within their own organization or with external audiences.
Frequency: All respondents attend or give a minimum of three presentations per week to both internal and external audiences and frequently present in more than one language.
Nationalities: Spanish, English, American, French, Italian, Australian, Japanese, Chinese, South Korean, Canadian, South African, Dutch, Swedish, Mexican, Columbian, Argentinian, Peruvian, Brazilian, Portuguese, Cuban.
– Structured feedback activities as part of a Presentation Skills course.
The initial stage of this study involved using an individual exercise dealing with this topic on every Presentation Skills training course in both English and Spanish given by our organization. The trainees responses were noted on a flipchart and then investigated in-depth during the following feedback session where the results were prioritized in order of importance. The feedback notes from each course were then evaluated and added to the corpus of information. We then identified 31 key areas that appeared frequently in the responses obtained from our students and used them in the second stage of this study.
– Bilingual paper-based questionnaires.
The second stage of the study consisted of the development of a bilingual survey (in English and Spanish) in both a paper-based format and for use on the internet placing the 31 items identified as being causes for disconnection in a randomly ordered list. On the questionnaires, each statement was rated on a scale from 1 to 10. #1 indicated Total Disagreement (absolutely NO annoyance / problems or disconnection) and #10 indicated Totally Agreement (great annoyance and immediate disconnection). Whenever possible, the questionnaire was followed-up by random structured interviews.
– Internet-based questionnaires.
The same structure as the paper-based questionnaires without any follow-up interviews.
The structured feedback activities, paper-based questionnaires and the internet based questionnaires continued in parallel during the course of the study.
Total number of Respondents in this study: 3.785
Results: The results below show the percentage of respondents who “Agree” with the statement and disconnect rapidly or immediately when the indicated situation is encountered (7-10 on the valuation scale).
I disconnect when…
– The presentation is too long. 72%
– The presenter does not finish in the time permitted. 72%
– The presenter does not give a guide to the areas that will be covered during the presentation. 73%
– The presenter speaks in a monotone for the whole presentation. 74%
– The language used is technical or the presentation is too technical. 76%
– The presenter reads the text written on the visual aids aloud and adds little extra information. 77%
– There is a lack of visual material to help understand the presentation. 77%
– The presenter only looks at one person and ignores the rest of the audience. 78%
– The audience have not received any information about the presentation beforehand. 80%
– The presenter turns his back on the audience.. 81%
– There is an imposition of ideas by the presenter. 83%
– The presenter separates himself emotionally from the audience. 83%
– The presenter does not mentally involve the audience in his presentation. 84%
– The presentation is complicated with too much detailed information. 85%
– The presentation does not have examples that the audience can relate to. 85%
– The presenter speaks too quickly. 85%
– The presentation site is inappropriate or has problems of heat, light, smells, columns, etc. 87%
– The presentation is text-based & the presenter only reads the transparencies to the audience. 88%
– The visual aids are hard to read. letters too small, background / foreground colours clash. 91%
– The objective of the presentation is unknown or has not been explained to the audience. 94%
– The audience can’t see the transparencies. 95%
– During the presentation there is unnecessary repetition of insignificant / unimportant information. 97%
– The Message that the presenter transmits is unclear. 98%
– The presenter answers questions from the group and goes of at a tangent thereby extending the duration of the presentation. 99%
– The presentation clearly does not have a structure. 99%
– The presenter has obviously not prepared for the presentation. 99%
– The data that the presenter uses is not linked properly to other known data. 100%
We are well aware that there are often organizational or cultural elements that affect the structure, method of delivery, and interpersonal roles in the presentation context and recognize that not all the elements in this study will be applicable to everyone, in every context or in every country. If the results of this study make you reevaluate what you have been doing, the study will have served it’s purpose.
The results indicate that while many organizations are investing a lot of time, money and resources in providing presentation skills training to improve both internal and external communication, it appears that their investment often fails for the reasons indicated above.
It is clear that when the audience is bothered by certain ambiental factors, something that was done or not done or certain behaviours of the presenter, this feeling will result in a disconnection between the listener and the presenter and their presentation which will affect the quality of the communication, the degree of impact and memorability of the activity and the achievement of the objectives of the presenter.
On the basis of this study and the massive changes that have occurred in the area of interpersonal communication over the past ten years, we decided to review the questions asked and obtain new data from February, 2012. to date which will be published in due course. Initial results indicate similar responses to those indicated above.