The Biggest Mistake in Presentation Design

The Biggest Mistake in Presentation Design

More often than you can imagine, we hear during briefing sessions for face-to-face presentations:

“We’d like to e-mail the presentation.”


And this suggestion makes us really antsy.


The differences between the face-to-face and the stand-alone presentation are important enough to kill one’s chances of success if the media are mixed.  Imagine doing a radio program on TV — no picture, just sound.  It won’t work!



Face-to-Face Presentation

Face-to-face presentations should allow for and encourage your audience to pay attention to you, the presenter. With that in mind, the presentation should involve engaging visuals that reinforce the main points of your story, and there should be a minimal text.


Think about it.  If you use too many words, what will your audience do? They will read.  And how can readers be paying attention to you at the same time?  Well, they can’t. Because that text is right there, in their faces just begging to be read!


In fact, if you want to lose an audience fast, this is a sure-fire way to do it, since you’ll no longer be needed and they’ll probably get very bored, very fast.


But used right, the face-to-face deck works as a valuable guide, helping you to stay on the optimized story (script) and on your key messages. It also helps to engage, surprise and entertain. And you, the presenter, are needed here, since the slides alone, by design, can’t do the job.


So to reply to the suggestion that a face-to-face be emailed:  No, it can’t be e-mailed and still do the job it was designed to do.



Stand-alone Presentation

A stand-alone presentation, the one that can be e-mailed, has a different goal: it needs to tell the whole story, elucidate, and hopefully captivate a reader from beginning to end, without a presenter.


That heavy weight is carried by the story, in the form of text. Visuals may make it more entertaining, but images in this form of presentation are not as important as the words.


In fact, the stand-alone isn’t actually a presentation, it is a document. And as such it needs to be self-explanatory. By design, no presenter is needed to deliver the message using this communication method.



The Mistake

Send a beautiful face-to-face deck by e-mail … And you will get question marks.  Maybe confusion.  And worse, maybe no response at all.


Alternatively, give a face-to-face presentation using a text-heavy document, even one with a well-crafted story and some visuals… Your audience will be, at best, overwhelmed, if not at worst totally bored. And you’ll probably end up feeling pretty bad as a presenter, since you’ll find it impossible to engage your audience.


(By the way, this is how 90% of traditional live presentations go.)



The Solution

So the question becomes: How do you engage and not turn off either the live or the virtual audience?


The answer is simple: You simply need to avoid trying to kill these two birds with the same stone. If you try, you may just miss both.


Instead, plan in advance, determine your objective, decide which format will work, and use only that format.


After the fact, you can always create an adapted version of a presentation: if you want to e-mail it, remove any animation and add text; if you want to present it, use animations, remove text from slides and insert it into the speech. It requires some skills, but it is definitely doable.


By not mixing your media the first time around, you will increase your chances of success big-time.