How to Kill a Presentation Stone Dead in Three Easy Steps

All the comments in this post are also applicable to training courses.

John, The Financial Director in a multinational company, was making a presentation of the last quarter’s results to the Management Committee of his company. He knew he had all the information that he needed; he had prepared everything “as usual” and he was sure it would be a great success. Since his presentation was the third one, he had the opportunity to see the first two presentations. Both of them had the traditional company style: dark blue backgrounds; white or yellow letters; lots of written text and an amazing amount of data – all on the “standard financial templates” used by his organization. However, soon after the first presentation started, he noticed that his attention was wandering, his eyes were having difficulty staying open and he actually started nodding off. Perhaps, he thought, it had something to do with the fact that the lights were off, the presenter was speaking slowly in a monotonous voice, the hum from the fan of the projector seemed to quite loud and persistent and that nobody was actually looking at him…

When the presenter finished his presentation and the lights went on, John found himself waking up for the Question and Answer session but he didn’t really participate because he really didn’t remember all that much about the content. As soon as the second presentation started, John found himself going through the same process as during the first presentation with the same results. Eventually, the same thing happened with all the other presentations.

John decided that he was going to watch what the audience were doing, and how they were reacting, during his presentation so that he could find ways to improve his communication skills. After his presentation finished, he began an in-depth investigation about what had happened & why…

What John finally discovered was:

1. Using dark, (navy blue, black, dark green, etc.) backgrounds and white/yellow letters.

For some strange reason, since the invention of PowerPoint, many people and organizations have incorrectly adopted dark-coloured, often navy blue, backgrounds and yellow / white letters for text as the corporate presentation style / template without investigating the psychological impact of this choice. This has resulted in lots of money for graphic designers, but produced adverse affects for the clients’ internal & external communications.


As a hypnotherapist, I use these colour combinations to induce hypnotic trance in large groups of people. Blue & yellow/white, when combined with a low level of light induce a state of relaxation and sleepiness both in the audience & the presenter. One clear way to see the effect of this is to listen to the presenter: often they start speaking reasonably quickly & loudly, however, they soon slow down and start speaking in a low, monotone which increases the “sleepiness” effect in the audience and converts the presentation into a boring and forgettable activity which wastes not only the time of the presenter but also that of the audience.

There are, however, many more reasons for not using these colours, some of which are:

1. It is anti-cultural: How many times do you, your friends or family use dark blue paper & pens with yellow/white ink in your daily work? So why use them when good communication is important? The fact that this style of slide was the default option in PowerPoint (until recently) does NOT mean that it is the best or most appropriate!

2. Visually, the clearer colours bleed into the background which makes the written text much more difficult to read. especially with smaller letter sizes, for both the presenter & the audience.

3. Blue + yellow / white used in this fashion tend to create what is know in N.L.P. as a “Kinesthetic” effect which means that it effects everyone at the subconscious emotional level rather than conscious logical one.

4. Many people do not like this type of slide / presentation but prefer to say nothing rather than say something for fear that their bosses would get angry with them – especially if the organization has spent (Wasted?) a great deal of money on a “Unique Company Template” (which is often similar to that of other companies in the same sector or area!).

5. Frequently, many presenters turn off the lights so that slides are easier to see. However, this means that the presenter is unable to observe the audience’s reaction and adjust his presentation accordingly. Observing & responding to the audience is the KEY TO SUCCESS to making great presentations.

Solution: For both presentations and training courses, use white backgrounds with the organization / product logo in the top, left-hand corner: this capitalized on the primacy /recency effect. Use BLACK for normal text and colours / font attributes (underline, bold, etc) to highlight individual words or phrases. Using a white background means that the presenter can leave the lights on and thereby easily observe the audience.

2. A Masters class in Reading

One thing that many people do not realize is that “People read at their own speed but they listen at the speed of the person speaking”. Some people read slowly, especially of it is NOT in their native language, while others read very quickly. If you put a slide full of written text on the screen, NOBODY will listen to the presenter until they have read, and understood, all that is written on the slide – the presenter who show the slides and immediately starts speaking is wasting both his time and that of the audience.

Solution: The best way to show written text is by using line by line animation, and NOT:

1. “Open show” – the whole slide at one time.

2. Letter by letter! = this is an excessive use of animation and the effect is even worse if accompanied by sound effects!

Also, as a general rule, the minimum size of letters should be 22 point Arial for “body” text and 28 point for titles.

3. Using Financial Templates (F.Ts.).

Definition: F.Ts are a standardized series of PowerPoint templates designed specifically for the organization and the employees are expected (told!) to use them in presentations.

Many organizations use F.Ts as a way to standardize information from various sources (countries, areas, etc) and avoid possible language problems between presenters and audience members, while unaware of the fact that 12% of the audience MAY be able to understand, visualize & extrapolate information from them but 78% of the audience may have a visual preference for understanding data and CANNOT process effectively this type of data. Kinesthetics, the third group who make up about 10% of the population, process information via their emotions and tend to have great difficulty in processing & understanding data presented on F.Ts.

1. F.Ts. Usually contain far too much unnecessary data which frequently leads to “Information Overload” for the audience. For more information read the seminal article on human recall: The Magic Number 7 +/-2 (cited below)

2. F.Ts. Do NOT facilitate communication: in fact they tend to reduce it. As mentioned above, the audience needs to read & understand what is on the screen before listening to the presenter. The presenter needs to decide what is most important; follow the “norms” of the organization or communicate effectively avoiding the possible confusion caused by data overload?

3. F.Ts are generally more effective as PDFs which allow the reader to control the reading process which is not the case in a presentation where the presenter controls it.

Solution: One option being used increasingly by many innovative multinational organizations is for the presenter to take ONLY the key data from each slide and present it graphically and to include a copy of both the modified slide and the original financial template into the support documents which are then distributed at the end of the presentation.

One of the presuppositions of Neuro Linguistic Programming is:

If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten!

So, if you continue to use techniques from the last century, do NOT expect to get better results!

Now is the time to improve your internal & external communication.

What are you waiting for?

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