Archive for July, 2010

Lecturers as Presenters? 5/10

July 30, 2010

For three years Grant Thornton the accountancy firm has booked us to run our Powerful Presentation Skills workshop for its summer intake of interns. This year there are fifty really bright, sparky and enthusiastic interns from universities across the UK (the firm’s recruiters are to be congratulated, we were really impressed with each and every one of the students we met.)

A couple of common (and I would suggest, worrying) themes are emerging. Firstly, that at school, students are often asked to present using PowerPoint. They are instructed to use slides that contain “words only ” (“no pictures please”) and that those words should be “black text on white background.” Like a man breaking wind in a lift, this is wrong on so many levels! It transpires that the reasoning behind this is that the presentation will ultimately form part of  their “exam assessment” and, therefore, a transcript is needed. Great for the examiner – not so great for the audience watching the presentation!

Good place for a nap!

As much as anything, projecting a white background at an audience for long periods can cause photokeratitis (or snow-blindness).  So, imagine what might happen if students have to watch an hour or two of back-to-back presentations given by their fellow pupils… the symptoms include pain, redness, swollen eyelids,headaches, halos around lights, hazy vision and in extreme cases temporary loss of vision. These symptoms may not appear for 6-12 hours. (A warning here then for companies that hold conferences and project bright screens at audiences in darkened rooms all day!)

Words do not make for good “visual aids” they are not visual and don’t necessarily aid the audience’s understanding or recall. No wonder PowerPoint gets misused when school students are taught to use it in this way.

But what worries me even more is the second theme that has emerged in our time training university students: those of their lecturers that use PowerPoint mostly do the same thing; fill up their slides with words.

Research at The University of South Wales showed that whilst we are happy to process either the written or the spoken word – we’re not good at doing both at the same time. Therefore, we’ll tune out one or the other. If the lecturer’s any good and there are too many words – we’ll tune out the slides (the slides are pointless!) If the speaker directs us to read them (usually by turning their back on us and reading them out loud (and boy, don’t you just hate that) then the speaker is tuned out!

But it’s not just many lecturers’ propensity to use PowerPoint as an auto-cue that worries us. On seeing our training the interns are telling us that their lecturers are committing other cardinal sins, but in particular:

Essential reading

Not giving an overview or review of their lecture. Stavros Sophocles, one of the famous Greek Orators, intimated that if you want an audience to remember what you’ve said to them (surely one of the key points to giving a lecture) that you should, “Tell the audience what you’re going to tell them, tell the and then tell them what you told them.” Apparently this doesn’t happen terribly often. It’s a fundamental that Tony Buzan covers in his brilliant books on learning and in particular in “Use your Head“. I think that anyone involved in learning (pupils and students too), lecturing or teaching should read this book.

BoredomOther crimes cited include (but not limited to): reading from notes or books for extended period of time; not engaging with the audience; staying behind a lectern; distracting fidgets; mumbling; erming and erring, not giving eye-contact and so on. No wonder then students often resort to passing notes to each other, twittering during lectures and playing “DISTRACTION!” an interactive game played on the internet by students against fellow classmates during their boring lecture classes. The DISTRACTION! website says the game, similar to Bingo, is used as a way to stay occupied and have fun during class. Students have to watch out for events such as “Lecturer gets ahead of himself on PowerPoint,” “Student asleep,” “Projector doesn’t work,” “Lecturer throws chalk” etc.

Invariably when we collect in our feedback forms in at the end of our course a common comment is, “Our lecturers could do with coming on this course!” You’d think that ,surely, a pre-requisite of allowing anyone to teach would be for them to undergo some basic presentation skills training – apparently not.

Score for presenting

Of course, we did hear of the rare inspirational lecturers who were brilliant at engaging with their audience, who used anecdotes and stories to bring alive their lectures, who did use PowerPoint to show great images and interesting graphs & charts, and who did introduce and conclude their lectures well. It’s just a shame it’s not the standard!

Asking our students to score their lecturers against our course content comes up with a score of 5/10. Must do better.

Are you Networking or just Connecting?

July 7, 2010
Networking is a funny old thing and often hugely misunderstood. I recently heard a self-appointed networking ‘guru’ tell an audience of aspiring business professionals that had they not got business by the second visit to a networking group, to abandon it. “Move on, ” he said with a sweep of his arm, “don’t waste your time.”


“Rubbish!” I thought. But thinking about it I guess he was talking about connecting – not networking. A connection is merely  a link between two points and can be a perfectly valid way to seek business. You identify your market and then organise, or seek, a gathering of your potential customers or introducers. Get it right, do a good job and it could generate business. If you find that there is absolutely no connection then certainly move on. But why limit yourself to just a few (or four) connections.

Networking is quite different; it is not just a connection between two points but links between many, many points. When you are networking you have to recognise that your job is not to try to sell your product or service, rather to sell yourself. It isn’t just about the people in the room, it’s also about all the people that they know and, indeed, all the people known to you. That means that given everyone has roughly 250 acquaintances then anyone you’d like to meet is only five contacts away.
A Network

A Network

Only after a period of time (i.e. more than two meetings) do you start to develop deep relationships with people who you like as you get to know them better. Once you have established a good level trust others become confident in you and thus more likely to introduce you to the folk in their network. And, of course, you become actively excited to seek opportunities for them. This inevitably takes longer to develop but instead of a one-off sale from a connection (if you are lucky), you’ll find yourself involved with a network of friends and referrers that will deliver business, yes, but also information and support for years to come.

And then we come to the other thing that got my goat about this ‘guru’s’ talk – he said, “Networking is about one thing and one thing only… Business.” Really?

What I do know is, that like many people, if I meet someone who focusses purely on pitching their product or service I metaphorically “run a mile” (I could just about manage it literally but it would be terribly inconvenient.)

Had I been training that room of fledgling networkers I’d have said completely the opposite. That networking is NOT just about business. It’s NOT about selling or badgering people about your business nor is it about putting people on the spot. If you do that then please don’t come back for a third meeting – you’ll not be welcome  – you’ll need to find somewhere else to go!

People buy from people that they know, like and trust, so that’s the primary objective of networking, surely, getting people to the stage where they know you, like you and trust you. Once you have established relationships and given of yourself then a whole new world opens up: you find new suppliers, you meet new friends, you get free advice, you get market intelligence, you get useful information, you gain support, encouragement, feedback for your ideas, solutions to your problems, the list goes on.


There, I’ve got that off my chest.