How does your organisation’s presentation culture measure up?

Five questions to get you thinking about the quality and impact of what’s being presented within your organisation

In my previous article, I highlighted the challenge of what we call presentation culture within organisations. This culture can quash the enthusiasm and forward thinking of individuals that are trying to improve the quality of their presentations, simply because of the cultural elements in play within an organisation.

To help you consider the presentation culture within your business (and before paranoia truly kicks in), let's consider some of the questions you might want to ask yourself:

Q1. How much of your working week do you spend preparing, delivering or listening to presentations?

The answer is more complex than you might immediately think. Spending too much time hunched over a PowerPoint presentation design while not thinking about your message or your audience is likely to be pretty ineffective. Equally, if you're spending too little time in preparing a presentation and rehearsing a presentation, you may want to ask yourself, how serious are you and your business are about the privilege of presenting.

It's a tricky balance to get right, but if in doubt, always remember nobody ever complained about a presentation being too short.

Q2. Have you ever left a presentation with no sense of direction?

This is a quick and simple one to fix – presentations should always be developed with a call to action in mind. Any presentation, be it sales, investor or internal communications, is of absolutely no value if it fails to ask its audience to do something as a result.I will often challenge presenters who are unsure what their call to action should be, with the simple question – why are you presenting in the first place?

Q3. How active is the black market for slides within your business?

Every organisation, no matter how small or how large, has a black market of PowerPoint slides. These rogue slides either don't comply with brand or don't follow the party line in terms of messaging, and are passed around as a bit of a guilty secret. Getting control right is a really fine balance and has a palpable impact on an organisation’s presentation culture.

Presentations should always be developed with a call to action in mind.”

Control needs to be managed – make it too tight and you run the risk of becoming very stagnant. Equally, everybody becoming presentation designers on their own decks (which PowerPoint allows them to do very easily) creates another headache. In these circumstances, we suggest running a ‘PowerPoint Amnesty’ – where presenters share their good, bad and ugly with no danger of retribution from the ‘brand police’. The chances are that you will uncover some good content amidst the clutter – after all, presenters keep revisiting them because they believe these materials add value to the conversations they're having with their audiences.

Q4. When was the last time you actually audited your presentation collateral?

Look at the messaging and content being shared with audiences – is it the most relevant and most engaging material you have to offer? The spectre of ‘Presentation Creep’, where people make tweaks upon amends upon updates, can impact any organisation. Ensure your presentation materials are treated with the same respect that you might treat a website or other form of printed collateral.

Q5. What part does technology play in your presentations?

Technology is a double-edged sword – we see a lot of people just completely wedded to PowerPoint while others like to dip their toes into lots of technological waters to get their presentation delivered and looking different. A software package called Prezi was successful in its earliest incarnation simply because it was not PowerPoint. We would always recommend that whatever technology you use, from PowerPoint to a whiteboard, through to tablets, that your choice is based on what is most appropriate to your audience.

Common sense, of course, but so rarely the case in B2B presentations.

So where does this leave you and your organisation’s presentation culture?

Ultimately, a good presentation culture is built upon an understanding and strong engagement with an audience. It’s this obsession that drives good habits across an organisation, with presenters approaching presentations as an opportunity and privilege, not a task.

A final thought to ponder on as you review your presentation culture – if in doubt, don't present. If you think that an audience engagement is better served without the need for slides, please follow your instincts and try it. Both you and your audience may be very pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

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Image: Flickr/Imagine Cup