I’m sorry if you can’t read this

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to be doing a short presentation at the Australian Evaluation Conference in Sydney.

So this week I fronted up (very nervously) and gave my five minute talk on getting past the imposter syndrome. You can watch it here. The sound is a little iffy at the beginning, but you’ll hopefully get the general idea.

I was very anxious about the whole thing so I’m glad it’s over.

But I wanted to talk more generally about the presentations and the communication styles of other presenters at the conference. I’m not suggesting that I’m good at public speaking (far from it – see above for evidence of this) but one thing that did surprise me was that the keynote speakers often seemed to have far too much content for their time-slots. I’m not sure if they were using a generic slide deck or whether they just think they will speak more quickly than they actually do, but in general lots of people ran out of time about half way through. I suppose that it didn’t matter because they were just so fascinating we were eager to hear anything they had to share, but nevertheless it surprised me a bit.

It sometimes felt as though they hadn’t really had time to think about their key messages.

There were a couple of really outstanding presentations. I was particularly impressed with a presentation by ARTD (an evaluation consultancy) who had clearly designed their presentation with the exact amount of information for the allotted time-slot. It was really interesting and really well done. They even had the key messages on a slide at the beginning of the presentation in case people had to leave to go to another session.

A notable thing at the conference was the big variations in slide decks.

The conference organisers had sent out a lot of guidance material about not putting too much details on the slides, but nevertheless some presenters couldn’t resist cramming their slides with a lot of very small text. I don’t think that I’m going to see this change in my lifetime but I would love to think that I’ll never have to hear anyone say “I’m sorry you can’t read this” again.

So there you have it. Overall it was a fantastic conference. I’m so glad I was fortunate enough to attend. Now I just need to go back to work and implement some of these great ideas.

13 thoughts on “I’m sorry if you can’t read this

  1. Debbie Notara says:

    Hi Marg,

    I have just spent a month or so working with my Diploma Community Services students on how to do a PowerPoint presentation with a fair degree of success from their presentations for assessment. It was based on their placement experience.

    There is a real art to slide design, font size, how to talk to each slide to engage the audience and using other social media in conjunction with the PPT.

    Will now watch your presentation which I am sure will be great. I will also feedback your comments to my class!

    • Margaret says:

      Hello Debbie! Congratulations on getting these important message across to your students. Too often people think that it’s just me being a bit pedantic or talking about design for design sake, when what I’m really talking about is communication. PPT is only one tool but I think it’s the most frequently abused, perhaps because it’s so easy to use. I think that it’s equally important to learn to design good clear reports and graphs. It takes effort to get your message across clearly, but it’s worth it if you have something important to say.

  2. Valorie Grace Hallinan says:

    I hope to write to you soon – I actually turned down a job offer a few weeks back….long story…. but I’ve noted in your writing here and elsewhere that you’re looking ahead. Things have been rather hectic on my end but I’m going to see family in Cleveland and since most everyone will be working during the day I hope to have time to write and fill you in….

    • Margaret says:

      I can’t wait to hear more about what you’ve been doing. Do write when you get a chance.
      I’m feeling a lot more positive about life and I’m going to New York with one of my daughters in three weeks so I’m very excited about that.

  3. Valorie Grace Hallinan says:

    Margaret, I think your presentation is here wonderful. I like your slides, and yes, they are clean and inspiring and human, not cluttered. More to the point, I’d heard you on audio before and I’ve always liked your delivery….well, you’re great live, too. Fabulous, friendly presentation style, both professional but more importantly, human and engaging. I hope you do more of this, either in your current work or in other endeavors, because you have lots of personality and charisma. Thanks for sharing this, and congratulations!!

    • Margaret says:

      Hello Valorie, you are far too kind but I do appreciate your lovely comments. As I may have mentioned several times, I was actually really nervous but I had practiced a fair bit with several of my very supportive colleagues and I’m sure that helped.
      I always advise people to rehearse their presentations, but not word for word as this can sound stilted. I don’t think I said the same thing twice in my run-throughs, but it does help you feel a bit more prepared.
      I am still mulling over plans for the future and I’m still not clear quite where I’m heading but I have a better idea of what sort of things I’d like to do, so that’s something.
      I hope you are well.Your recent post on the wedding you went to in Sicily was very interesting.

  4. evaluatedlife says:

    Margaret, I appreciate how you’ve called attention to the real need for us to improve how we communicate while recognizing where you are on your own journey. I constantly cite AEA’s Potent Presentation Initiative as an example of how we can help each other communicate better. https://www.eval.org/page/p2i-home. My presentations are much better and take SOOO much longer to create when I follow the p2i advice. Also, well done you for doing an Ignite talk. I’ve had seasoned professors and speakers tell me they wouldn’t be brave enough to try it! 🙂

    • Margaret says:

      Hi Anne and thank you for taking the time to comment. Just as an aside, I read an article recently by a writer who said that they treasure every single like and comment and that’s true for me as well. It often feels as though you are writing into a void, so it’s thrilling to see the feedback on this post.
      Thanks also for the link to the American Evaluation Association’s presentation resources. There’s some excellent advice there. I absolutely agree with your comment that presentations take much longer to make when you take the time to refine your messages (but they are also better, as you say). It reminds me of that old adage “if I had more time this letter would be shorter” attributed to Mark Twain I think.

  5. Tamara Lee says:

    Hi Margaret, some good observations here about presenters and their slides. Sometimes i thinkmthey are so obsessed with their content they forget the rest of us are new to their journey… and I agree, if the slides have too much data, its time to KISS….

    • Margaret says:

      Hi Tamara and thanks so much for commenting. I don’t want to sound too critical because I was thrilled to be there, but the people who had taken the time to think about the needs of the audience made me feel valued.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Oh the link doesn’t work for me either! Thanks for letting me know. I will try to fix it!
    The most interesting presentations were the plenary sessions and also a great presentation on Buddhist approaches to evaluation. Can’t wait to tell you about it.

  7. Abigail Hall says:

    Hey there Marg, great to hear about the conference and your presentation. The link to your video didn’t work for me but maybe because I am in a foreign country!

    What did you find the most interesting paper or session?

    How’s things with you, work? Life? Hope everything is going well. Lots of love Abi x

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Margaret says:

      I have updated the link now. I’m so sorry it didn’t work before. I can see that others have tried to view it but it wasn’t working. Never mind!

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