07 October 2009

Briefing Charts Redux

I keep coming back to this topic of presentations. I really think that if we could just have the guts, imagination and will to improve the way we give presentations, we'd find that we could fix all sorts of other problems. If we would spend the time necessary to communicate clearly & accurately, and if we valued telling the truth over making sure the charts are consistent with everyone else's format, not only would a lot of problems be easier to solve - I think many wouldn't even occur in the first place.

But it's tricky, isn't it? If your charts don't look as dense, complex and convoluted as everyone else's, it'll look like you didn't really do any work, 'cause everyone knows complexity is a sign of effort, right? Actually, a simple, clear message takes more understanding, more time and more skill than the jumbled messes we call "finished products."

So, to help get things started, here are a few thoughts and guidelines, in case you haven't picked up Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen yet:

1) You don't need your logo on every chart. Honest!
2) You don't need a redundant title on each chart either. Really, you don't!
3) Use hand-outs to present details. Use PowerPoint charts to present main topics
4) Limit yourself to somewhere between 1/2 an idea and 1 full idea per chart.
5) Time is always (always always always) the limiting factor (the only limiting factor). It's not about how many charts you use.


Dan Taylor said...

First off, I love the tag above your comment box: "Real rogues don't post anonymous comments."

I agree Presentation Zen should be required reading for anyone who insists on trying to use Power Point to communicate.

Curious to know, though, whether you've had much success putting the ideas into practice. I share your view on PowerPoint, but have had limited success in changing how presentations are done in my part of my organization. If they're shareable on the internet and you're "rogue enough," I'd encourage you to post some have worked in an Acquisition arena that reflect a Presentation Zen approach.

Finally, I want to thank you for your writing. I saw your piece in the May-Jun DAM and shared it with my project team. I liked it so much I tweeted it this way back on May 30th:

"Failure is inevitable. Do it quick, keep losses low, learning high. Great article in Def AT&L May-Jun09 http://bit.ly/nkMjK"

(I tried finding it to skim again, but everything in the http://www.dau.mil/pubs/dam hierarchy is 404 tonight...)

Keep up the great work Dan!


The Dan Ward said...

Hey Dan - thanks for the kind words & welcome to the conversation!

You ask a great question, and I must admit I've had only limited success in my attempts to influence how PPT's are put together. In my own briefings, I find that the Pres Zen approach is very effective and well received. Gabe and I recently did a gig at DAU, and it was uber-Zen (most charts had no words). But the idea hasn't quite caught on with the rest of the community... yet. We're working on that. :)

You can also check out my Charts Are Cheap presentation from Slideshare (I probably shoulda mentioned that in the post. Here's the link: http://www.slideshare.net/thedanward/charts-are-cheap).

dcwork said...

Scott Berkun has a nice enumeration of the reasons for bad slides over on his speaker confessions blog:

He references the following presentation as providing evidence/ROI for better slide/briefing approaches: