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Scientific Proof of Problems Caused by Bad Presentations

As a research consultant, I’m constantly writing reports and giving presentations.  In the years I’ve been working, I’ve seen a shift in client preferences from actual written documents to “PowerPoint reports.”  This shift has produced an unfortunate side effect – a new class of document that Garr Reynolds (http://www.presentationzen.com/”>www.presentationzen.com</a) refers to as the “slideument.”

A slideument is what results from the attempt to make a PowerPoint (or any other presentation software) file do double duty as a stand-alone document and visual aids for a presentation.  In the end, it doesn”t accomplish either task very well.

Anyone who has endured the PowerPoint death march at your typical industry conference has seen the result firsthand – a procession of presenters basically reading their slides to the audience.

Australian researchers have shown that this approach ( http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/research-points-the-finger-at-powerpoint/2007/04/03/1175366240499.html)  inhibits learning and retention.  That”s right – all those droning presentations not only make you want to run for the coffee or your Blackberry, they actually make it harder for your brain to process the information.

The same research study also showed that – if used correctly – the visual aids can enhance learning.  To do that, the slides need to illustrate the spoken information in a different form.

Next time, provide your report in two forms.  The written report for people to review on their own and the presentation deck to support your spoken review of the content.

If you must, use PowerPoint for the written document.  Whatever platform you use, make it serve its purpose as a stand alone document that provides readers with all of the context and interpretation necessary to get the message.

The presentation deck should consist primarily of images, diagrams, and charts that powerfully communicate the points you are trying to make.  This document will make little sense to people when viewed in isolation, but will greatly amplify your message when used in conjuntion with your talk.

More work?  Yes.  But its also probably one of the quickest and easiest ways to distinguish yourself from your peers. 

About the Author

Ed Erickson is the President of Erickson Research, a Chicago market research consulting firm. You can find Ed on LinkedIn and .

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