BUSINESS PRESENTATIONS: Can you hear me at the back?

Presentation isn’t everything. It’s the feedback that really counts, writes Ron Condon

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

shooting up.’



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

presentation.’



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

becomes transparent.’



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

whatever’.



‘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.



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