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%