Bells and whistles can’t mask poor material

Content is the most important factor for delegates

I’ve attended a lot of presentations at events over the years and it seems to me that the definition of a presentation is increasingly getting lost somewhere along the way.
The dictionary says a presentation is a ‘speech or talk in which a new product, idea or piece of work is shown and explained to an audience’, but I’m seeing an increasing number of presentations that have a brief introduction followed by the speaker telling the audience to get into groups to discuss the topic.

I don’t believe people attending these sessions want this. I believe they want to hear an expert tell them things about a particular subject that they didn’t previously know and to provide them with ideas and data that they couldn’t get anywhere else.

The method demonstrated by said speakers, who turn the session into a discussion, is the equivalent of buying a book to find that after one chapter, the rest is blank and all it says is ‘discuss’.

It all seems a bit of a cop-out and makes me feel that the presenters don’t really know the subject – it’s probably easier for them to lead the group to a discussion as it absolves them of any responsibility.

Great presentations are those with a clear objective and strong content. In a number of surveys, attendees have consistently rated content as the most important factor in a conference programme.

But what we continue to see instead of great content is a string of effects such as 3D and holographic projection and wearables used to aid what can only be described as mediocre content – you can have as many technological bells and whistles as you want in your presentation, but it isn’t going to mask poor knowledge or useless topic information.

In my view, speakers should only agree to hold a presentation if they actually know the subject inside out and have something interesting to say. An audience should leave the talk feeling that they’re taking something valuable away with them.

Audience questions are always a good addition and can be useful, but they should be an opportunity to find out what the expert thinks is the answer – not a debate by the person next to you, who may be completely unqualified to offer an opinion yet will anyway.

Too much interaction and we stray into the definition of a meeting which is almost certainly not what your attendees signed up for. If a level of interaction and audience participation has to occur, remember that those attending the presentation often want to remain anonymous, but that is where tech can aid presentations via apps or voting keypads.

Unfortunately, truly great presenters are few and far between but an organiser needs to strive to find those people, because they will transform the conference. We need to stick to the basics by having great content, because not every presenter can be as good as Hans Rosling…

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Are the questions essential?

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