Let’s face it, this is the obvious one but if you get it wrong, nothing else matters, so…
…It’s time to get physical
At its most extreme, a failure here means that no one can see you and no one can hear you. It’s as if you’re not there. At that point, there’s no communication and your presentation might as well not have taken place: as the adage goes, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? Okay, I’m not 100% serious here but you get the idea. The thing most presenters forget, unfortunately, is that it’s not a black and white thing.
Don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense and you’ve never heard of ‘Cognitive Load’. There’s a full explanation coming up!
There’s some research evidence also, that a presenter who makes simple technical mistakes undermines his or her credibility too! Presenting the content badly makes that content less credible.
Now for the bad news… we could go on and on and on in this section. And on. Because there’s always something more that could go wrong but once you’ve got the principles of what you’re supposed to be doing a few examples should make things clear, so you can work on the ideas yourself.
Example 1: Font size
Size matters, deal with it. You’ll see a million pieces of advice on the web about the size of your font and most of it is reasonable. For example in his famous blog post about the very popular 10-20-30 rule for presenting, the inestimable Guy Kawasaki suggests a minimum font size of 30 points. This kind of thing is pretty obviously a bit of a simplification because what really matters is how big any text is when it appears on the screen, compared to how far away the audience is. The further away they are, the bigger the screen needs to be and the bigger the text needs to be on it.
All of that said, if you’ve got the time to work out the trigonometry of how big the text is on your slides, how far your projector is from the screen and the beam-angle of your projector then you’ve got too much time on your hands and you need a hobby. 😉
For what it’s worth, my personal experience is that Guy’s being conservative and my recommendation is 42 points. There’s a personal aside here which comes up at pretty much ever single live training I’ve run in the last five years when I say this… (caution, incoherent rant!)
Example 2: Font Choice
The more easy something is to read, the more it reduces cognitive load. Familiar fonts are easier to read (because they’re familiar!) and clean fonts are easier than fussy ones. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but I recommend Sans Serif fonts (without flicks and ticks etc) for your slides: of these, the two most widely known and used examples are Arial and Helvetica.
Essentially I’m coming down on sans serif fonts because they are immediately readable – there might well be easier-to-read fonts for sheets of text (such as in books) but consider these two facts about the use of sans serif fonts in places where immediacy is important:
- road signs are written in a sans serif font called Transport (which was specially commissioned for this very function); and
- railway safety signs (in the UK) are written in Helvetica.
I’m not sure I need to go on… you get the idea 🙂
Example 3: Contrast
Black on white is easy to read; so is white on black . Pink on white? Not so much. Isn’t that pretty much all that needs to be said?
Sadly not. This is the land of design (or make believe) where things like Corporate Templates rear their heads. Yes, medium blue on a grey background might look okay (or even fantastic!) on the written page, or even when viewed on a large, very bright, high contrast LDC monitor… but all too often your presentations will be given using an underpowered projector in a bright room. At this point the fancy colour schemes become a positive liability. By all means, use a template if your job requires it, but think long and hard about the visual aspects.
Example 4: Background noise
I know, I know, there’s often nothing you can do about the chatter in the next room – or the clinking of glasses from the cafe, but the fact remains that the research is pretty clear. Anything like this which makes it harder for the audience to ‘get’ your message will cause problems.
Anything you can do will help. At the very least, acknowledge there’s a problem!
Example X: Another example…
Because this page can go on forever, but you’ve probably got the idea by now 😉