How often do you sit through presentations that contain so much text that the font size is unreadable from even the front seats? Then the presenter turns his or her back to the audience and reads the slides verbatim?
How often do people share their slide deck as a record of the meeting, but no one can figure out what it says a few weeks later because the deck is full of pretty pictures and vague bullet-point topic sentences?
How often do you sit through a meeting that is supposed to be collaborative but the presenter runs out of time just presenting the deck, with a slow reveal of the insights or recommendation?
Most people would answer "frequently" (if not "always") for each of these questions. In some cases the writer should take the blame for poor writing or communications skills. However, the real underlying problem is different circumstances require different document formats. A good presentation should provide minimal graphic support, so the audience pays attention to the words and makes eye contact with the presenter. By design, such a presentation makes for a poor leave-behind. In my days at McKinsey years ago company policy forbade us leaving a copy of the slides as the only documentation. We had to either write a complete text document to describe our findings and recommendations, or annotate the slide deck to make it more descriptive.
Yet so many presenters today try to split the difference. They put enough on the slide to satisfy the documentation need, but still have graphics to make the presentation more interesting. They end up accomplishing neither. I almost scream each time I hear "I am sorry this slide is so tough to read" or "I apologize for this eye chart".
This paper on SlideDocs by Nancy Duarte impresses me. It is an interesting read. It is a game changer. I am already putting this approach to use in my businesses.
The key points are:
- Most people should share papers in advance of the meeting, so the group can use the time for discussions rather than presenting.
- We live in a visual time, so the visual impact of photos, graphs, tables, etc. are important in a document. We should borrow lessons from visual media such as Wired Magazine and Flipboard.
- The document should work as a stand-alone, which requires the more detailed text to tell the story. If the presenter wants to show some or all the pages in a presentation later, then he/she can remove the text and rearrange the graphic elements for visual appeal.
Duarte suggests people use PowerPoint or the equivalent. I believe Google Presentation is a better choice. It has nearly all the graphic functionality of PowerPoint. Teams can use the collaboration tools to create and edit the document together. The audience can view the presentation on just about any device with a browser, with no need to own or open the PowerPoint app. The presenter can share a web link with the audience members, so they do not have to open a file. And the presenter can make adjustments to the presentation before the rest of the audience views it, in case an early reader points out some typos or the like.
Give it a try. My bet is most of us will be using the term "SlideDoc" before the year is over. And our meetings will be more effective.