When Visuals Don’t Align

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I’ve been working with clients from a small investment advisory firm who give a variety of sales-type presentations, mainly introducing their firm and their products. Presenters are usually seated at a conference table, speaking to 1-15 people. Their visuals are almost always letter-sized decks: printouts of PowerPoint slides. They send a digital version to participants in advance of the meeting and then supply a hard-copy deck to each to follow along during the presentation. The decks are created by the firm’s marketing department — sometimes in conjunction with the presenter. The visuals are created first then given to the presenters to present.

Before working with one team at this firm, I reviewed two of their 80-page decks. Wow. More information than anyone could relay in even a 2-hour presentation!  And most slides were hard to decipher: very complicated graphs and charts with tiny fonts and keys. Some slides duplicated content from other slides and/or featured a lot of text. Apparently these decks had to stand alone when viewed in advance or afterwards by attendees or people not present.

When I worked individually with the presenters, however, they all said they could not make it through even ¼ of the slides, so they each found a way to work with – or should I say around — the visuals. Some would start at the beginning and work through the deck in order; others would cherry pick slides to address and ask attendees to “turn to page 12”, usually out of order, according to the presenter’s current point.

What’s wrong with this picture?

  • There was a disconnect between the speakers’ words and their visuals. They would have to ignore some content (then why include it ion the slide?), add in missing content verbally (should be included) or use the slide in a context other than the one described on the slide (confusing). Result: confusing, not integrated and unpolished presentation.
  • When visuals are not aligned, it can subtly – or not so subtly — undermine presenters’ confidence, weakening the delivery of a presentation that is already shaky in its content.
  • The narrative should lead the visuals. Visuals are an enhancement to the spoken word. They describe info in a way words alone cannot. It was impossible to fully do this when the visuals were created first. Presenters had to make do with visuals that confused or detracted from the message rather than clarified it.
  •  Using an extensive stand-alone deck for a shorter, more targeted in-person presentation is overkill and leads to the issues above.

So what’s the answer?

Ideally, you write you own presentation, then make or request appropriate visuals based on your narrative, the precise information you need to supplement, and in the proper order. That’s the hard-copy deck you give to attendees to follow during the presentation.

Sure, send that stand-alone deck in advance so recipients can see all the information they might possibly need, plus material you must legally provide. And even have a few copies of that deck on hand in case additional information is needed during the presentation.

Doing this would turn an unpolished, choppy presentation into an integrated, easy-to-follow whole, and would improve your delivery by boosting your confidence that you are giving an effective presentation.

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