Presentation isn’t everything. It’s the feedback that really counts,
writes Ron Condon
With all the improvements in presentation technology - notebook
computers, portable projectors and software packages like Powerpoint or
Harvard Graphics that virtually write the presentation for you - the
fact remains that if your audience doesn’t like or understand your
message, then you’ve failed.
No matter that your slides are perfectly designed, have the right
typefaces, the right colour combinations and embody slick graphics, and
even video clips. When you pack up your gear at the end of the
presentation, you may still have no idea how well you have done.
People have their own ways of monitoring response. Paul Lailey, head of
Angoss Software, always uses two people in presentations: one to work
the notebook computer, the other to watch the audience. ‘We show people
what we can do with their own data, mining for hidden relationships,’
says Lailey. ‘Once we see people suddenly taking notes we know we’re
winning. We’ve told them something they didn’t know already.’
With other types of presentation, interest may not be so easy to gauge.
According to Nigel Gunn, sales and marketing manager for NOBO Visual
Aids, the company that gave us the flipchart, the key to success in any
presentation is preparation. ‘You must know your subject and know your
audience, and what is of interest to them’, he says. ‘You must also
ensure you excite them during the presentation. For sales people that
may mean giving them lots of upbeat information; accountants may want
figures and charts.
‘From the start, especially in more manageable groups, you have to be
able to build up a rapport with the audience, so plan in some points in
the presentation where you ask questions of the audience.
If you think they might be shy of answering, try offering a prize. It’s
amazing the effect that the mere offer of a cuddly toy can have on hands
But the presenter who wants more informed feedback has to look a bit
further than the cuddly toy. And many are now seeing the benefits of
using an electronic voting system that lets the presenter take instant
polls during the presentation.
One fan of the technique is Paul Eastey, production director of
Clearwater Communications: ‘Electronic voting systems can be a great way
of attacking the problem of people sitting passively through a
The systems, which usually involve giving everyone in the audience an
electronic keypad connected to a single computer, allow opinions to be
tested at a stroke, and give immediate feedback to the presenter.
This not only lets the presenter know how well things are going, but it
can also provide the delegates with a level of anonymity that allows
them to be completely honest in their answers.
The problem, says Eastey, is that most people associate this kind of
voting system with TV game shows. ‘That can be a problem, so it’s a good
idea to start with some humorous test questions, which helps to get the
humour out of the way. It gets rid of that game show feel. You address
the fun elements right up front, and that way usage of the handset
One of the leading players in the field of interactive voting systems is
IML, whose sales and marketing director, Peter Knowles, emphasises how
much extra information you can generate from this approach. ‘You can
collect all the data anonymously, or you can say at the start ‘I would
quite like to know how many males and females there are in the audience,
which parts of the country you are from, are you marketing, sales or
‘That means you can programme the handset without knowing the
individual’s name, and it enables you to break down the results of the
answers during the presentation. Those demographic splits can then be
used to cross-tabulate results.’
The voting systems themselves are getting easier and cheaper to use. IML
has just introduced a software package that works in conjunction with
Microsoft Powerpoint. It allows the users to build a presentation, as
they would with any other Powerpoint presentation, but then to build in
question slides which will be eliciting a response from the audience.
The new IML handsets are cordless and communication with the computer
system is via an infra-red receiver which fits into one of the
computer’s standard sockets. As the presenter reaches the slide which
asks the questions, the systems send out a signal to the handsets, which
then flash to prompt the delegate to vote.
The system then collects the responses, processes them and displays the
results on the screen in whatever format - bar chart, pie chart - that
the presenter has defined. The system retains all the results in slide
form, and also allows more detailed analysis to be done, either between
sectors of the one audience, or between different audiences. Such a
system costs around pounds 15 a head to hire, or around pounds 5500 for
the software and ten handsets.
IML has also recently begun to take the concept one stage further,
combining the broadcasting power of business television over satellites,
with reponses gathered over the Internet.
The company has introduced a TV set-top box, which several companies are
looking at using, in order to make business TV more interactive.
IML has already been involved with a one-off event with Unipart. Staff
at 35 locations were able to send their reponses back from their voting
handset, over the Internet, to a central computer. The results were
processed and displayed for all to see within a few seconds.