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“Presenting” on the phone

Tom Salinsky writes...

The word “presenting” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. You can feel like you are “presenting” sitting around a board room table with four other people when suddenly all eyes are on you – you don’t have to be at an enormous town hall with 500 people and thousands of pounds worth of AV equipment magnifying your every word and gesture.

What I hope it means, because that’s how I orient my training sessions, is standing in front of a group of people who have agreed to give you their attention while you talk to them, probably with visual aids of some kind because you have prepared your remarks in advance. Those visual aids often mean PowerPoint slides, about which much has been written, including by me. One of the problems that PowerPoint tends to bring is its ubiquity. You’re supposed to have slides and so you do. You type your notes into PowerPoint and then present while showing the audience those notes, and then that same PowerPoint document becomes a permanent record of your presentation (further demonstrating that you were redundant).

My usual advice is to make sure that the presentation is presenter-led rather than slide-led. Begin by figuring out what you want to say, then practice it until you are happy, then ask what an audience hearing this for the first time would find helpful to see displayed behind you, then add in the slides. Except in very particular cases, you should add to what is on the slide, and never have words on the slide which you don’t say – the audience is waiting for you to say them and will wonder why you included them visually if you then appear to ignore them.

However, I hadn’t been leading presentations workshops for very long before another kind of “presentation” came up – one I wasn’t previously familiar with. “Presenting” on the phone.

This is really what you or I might refer to as a conference call, but just as the same set of slides is supposed to do an excellent job as your notes, signposts for the audience, a reminder of your talk for attendees and a substitute for attending, here the same set of slides is meant to structure the call. But in almost all of these cases, the participants have already had the opportunity to review the slides before the call started, and even more than in the case of a typical presentation, the document has been designed to stand alone. So for the “presenter” – the host of the call – to plough through the slides line-by-line is agonising.

The tedium of watching a presenter do this while you are in the audience is bad enough, but at least when each slide appears it is new to you. Imagine the boredom if you have read and absorbed the slides already! No wonder most people on conference calls are “multi-tasking” (i.e. not listening).

In this situation, my usual advice does not work. You can’t make this presenter-led, you have to make it document-led, but that doesn’t mean you read out every word. It means when the document can talk for itself you let it. Ask yourself what can you add, not how you can reproduce this written content in an audio form. Summarise the key messages very, very briefly. Point out wrinkles that would be easily overlooked in a skim-read. Solicit questions and give answers. Move through the document as quickly as possible. If the call takes half the time allocated – I promise you, no-one will mind!

September 8th, 2014 - This post has no comments. -

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