Surf and Tell: 3 Keys to Better Presentations

I’m not against PowerPoint, don’t think it’s from hell or the “devil’s tool,” and don’t have a problem with using it for presentations.  What I do have a problem with are presentations that bore me, that could have easily been a one page handout or email, and presenters that don’t communicate with me no matter what software they are or aren’t using.

That being said, here’s a picture of the MOST INFORMATIVE SLIDE I’ve seen in a long time!  It’s part of a presentation Jonathan Hoag delivered at the Drowning Prevention/Ocean Safety Conference on Kauai just last week.  It was so good I actually took a picture of it so I could refer back to the data. 

Basically, it’s a way to figure out how big the waves are going to be based on data gathered from off-shore buoys.  This is gold.

Maybe it’s just me and the fact that I’ve NEVER been able to figure out how to figure out this whole buoy, time interval, period, direction thing but for the first time I got a glimpse of what it was supposed to be about.  I’m giving props to Jonathan for a clear description and effective use of PowerPoint for my increased understanding.

Here’s three things he did to make it to my “PowerPoint from Heaven” list:

  1. First, he had a topic I cared about.  This sound like a no-brainer but if you’re delivering a presentation to people who have absolutely NO REASON to listen to you then no amount of animated text or cool transitions or funny cat pictures are going to help you.  “Know Your Audience” is still vital today.  Why do I feel that presenters don’t take the time to do their homework and get to know me? Now, there is something to be said for being able to demonstrate the importance of your material to your listeners and generate attention from that and I do agree that the burden is largely on the presenter.  Every speech class will give you the same tips for introductions that focus on this issue.  There all very similar.  Here’s a how-to from ehow with the second page giving the standard tips for intros.
  2. Secondly, Jonathan had a topic he cared about and owned.  It was obvious for me that he cared about his topic that helps me to engage with him in the conversation.  That’s a strange word to see here – conversation.  You would have expected the word presentation and been with pretty much the majority of presenters.  And that’s the problem.  Even though most of the presentation deliver appears to be one-way (outside of the q&a) the entire time is ideally a two-way communication, or conversation.  The other part of this point is that he “owned” the material.  This guy knew his stuff. Period.  When he said something I believed him. Please don’t try and fake it.  If you don’t know it, pick a different topic or refer. 
  3. The final thing is that he had effective visuals.  Outside of the one I took a picture of he had slides with giant waves on Maui, Waimea Bay during the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational and other spots along with the buoy data.  I was engaged and almost salivating when he finally revealed the slide with the multiplier how-to.  I was prepped and wanted the information he offered.  There was no need for fancy effects from the software.

Overall, good stuff.  It wasn’t a “perfect” presentation – those are rarefied events. There’s a couple of things I would offer to improve but who cares?!?  I can now look at buoy data and figure out how big the waves will be next week!  I’m set!  See you on in the surf 🙂

p.s. Here’s an image and a link to a NY Times article on really bad Powerpoints.  Worth reading.

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Powerpoint (NY Times article)

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