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Welcome to

The Standup Trainer Newsletter

September 2005  

Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.



This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end. But we're betting you'll change your mind by the time you get there.)

Welcome to all new and continuing subscribers!

In this issue:

1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month
When is audience participation not such a good thing?

2. Presentation Hall of Shame
Throw away those sleeping pills! Here’s a sure cure for insomnia.

3. Presentation Skills Book Review
Is PowerPoint truly evil?

4. Useful Online Resource of the Month
Abraham Lincoln meets the Autocontent Wizard.

1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month

[Editor's Note: Have you a good story to tell about the time SOMETHING WENT WRONG at a presentation you were giving (or attending)? We are soliciting submissions for this segment of our newsletter. If your story is chosen, you will receive a FREE copy of either of Ellen's two books, The Standup Trainer or Presenting with Style (your choice). Simply send your story (just a couple of paragraphs will be fine) to edowling@standuptrainer.com.]

The winner of this month's contest is Martin Olivas, a trainer for Home Depot and a student in Ellen's "Presentation Skills for Trainers" class, offered by UNM Continuing Education's Training and Development in Instructional Technology certificate program.

Some time ago I was conducting a sales training class for 15 associates. The format of this class contains a lot of interaction, including group activities and debriefings about what they learned from the activities. Just as I was getting ready to sum up one of the activities and make a few key points, one associate let out a huge fart.

Everyone was startled, but then we all started to laugh (even the embarrassed culprit). What could I do but say, "I think it is time to take a 15-minute break."

2. Presentation Hall of Shame

How many times have you attended a presentation where the presenter looked more often at the slides on the screen than at the audience in the seats?

Why do you think people do this?

Is it stagefright? Are they worried that they won't be able to remember what's on the slide if they turn away from it? (Sort of a "security blanket" for presentation butterflies?)

Is it laziness? It's much easier (and much less time consuming) to construct a PowerPoint presentation that contains every single word you want to say to your audience rather than design a presentation that actually engages your audience and encourages them to remember your key points.

I believe it's actually a little of both. And thus the "cure" for both is the same: Put as few words as possible on your slides and add as many pictorials as appropriate (to the length of your presentation and to your audience's learning needs). If, for example, you put up a slide that says, simply, "Why seaweed is impractical for stuffing upholstery," and include (perhaps) a picture of a sofa, you will not be so tempted to stare at the slide yourself. On the contrary, you will be forced to turn to the audience and elaborate on the reasoning behind your slide's statement.

Remember that audiences don't need to hear what you WANT them to hear; they need to hear what they NEED to hear.

[For an example of what a PowerPoint presentation with many pictures and few words looks like, check out 5 Ways for Avoiding Death by PowerPoint.]

3. Presentation Skills Book Review

Speaking of avoiding "Death by PowerPoint," here's an interesting publication by a man who believes that everyone should just stop using PowerPoint altogether.

In his 27-page pamphlet, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, author and graphic design expert Edward R. Tufte makes a very convincing case for avoiding the use of PowerPoint templates, which "usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis." And he is particularly scornful of bullet lists, citing a study in The Harvard Business Review, which found that most bullet lists used in business planning and corporate strategy reflect "generic, superficial, simplistic thinking.”

Tufte does not consider this mere academic criticism: A poorly designed PowerPoint presentation, he asserts, can lead to disaster. He presents a detailed account of how "the cognitive style of PP compromised the analysis" of the damage to the left wing of the space shuttle Columbia seconds after its liftoff in January of 2003, and provides an in-depth study of one particular slide (“a PowerPoint festival of bureaucratic hyper-rationalism”) that led high-level NASA officials to conclude that the Columbia was not in danger.

Tufte’s conclusion? “PowerPoint will not do for serious presentations.”

So what WILL do? “For serious presentations,” Tufte advises, “replace PowerPoint slides with paper handouts showing words, numbers, data graphics, images together.” And strive to become a teacher, not just a presenter.

4. Useful Online Resource of the Month

One last bone to pick this month about the perils of PowerPoint: If you haven’t checked out Peter Norvig’s PowerPoint version of The Gettysburg Address yet, you’re in for a real hoot and a half.

From Norvig’s introduction to the slide show: “I imagined what Abe Lincoln might have done if he had used PowerPoint rather than the power of oratory at Gettysburg. (I chose the Gettysburg speech because it was shorter than, say, the Martin Luther King ‘I have a dream’ speech, and because I had an idea for turning ‘four score and seven years’ into a gratuitous graph.”)

Edward R. Tufte LOVES this spoof!

That's it for this month! If you enjoyed this newsletter please do pass it on to your friends. (Or send them to www.standuptrainer.com to get their own subscription. Why should YOU have to do everything for them?)

If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:

Dowling & Associates, Inc.
Ellen Dowling, President
(505) 883-9070