The other day I was attending a conference as a visitor, the topic was open source which is interesting for me and a good chance of networking. The room was neatly crowded, good organisation, the speeches not too long. Since I’m so passionate about public speaking I couldn’t resist elaborate on the presentations. Matter of fact I always do it, this particular occasion struck me for the similitude of considerations.

I am not going to┬áname names, it’s about the ideas, let’s just set the context. ICT conference on a topic, where most of the speakers are sponsors and they take turns on stage to give their point of view, better the one of the company they represent, with same commercial attitude more or less masked in the gig. Six presentations in a single morning, a good rhythm, 4 using classical slides (one surely Keynote, 3 possibly PowerPoint although I’d like to think some Impress too since it’s an open source event), one with Prezi and one with no visual aids at all.

Without dwelling about any specific presenter I’ll jot down some considerations that apply more or less to all of them. Who used slides had them packed with text, all but one, great for handing them out at the end of the day (and they are available for download) but totally not apt to be on a screen when someone talks side to them. In the best scenario they were completely ignore by the speaker, who was talking about something else, while the slides in the background worked as a distraction. In the worst case they were read by the presenter killing flow and any spontaneity. When they were read word by word the audience was at the end of the slide by the time the reader was half way.

With Prezi it was better, text was there and prevailing, but overall less than on slides. This good point is counter balanced by visual aids who are less designed to be shared at the end.

The only speaker who faced the stage armed with only a rod and his voice spared us from the death by powerpoint and at the same time managed to remind us why visual aids are so important if properly used. Some of the concepts he talked about would have greatly benefit from some graphical representations (pictures, charts, or something else). The emotional impact of the presentation could have been higher and some key messages would have been more memorable when sided with proper visuals.

Overall the most important point I noticed is that I really struggle in extrapolating a clear message from any speech. Some of them were an overall glance at the company offer, others take a generic look at the market, one was the history of a product (with no message) and others very vague. Was it because the presenters were ineffective? Maybe, but I put my finger at lack of preparation and clear vision when designing the presentations. It didn’t look like they have a clear message they wanted the audience to bring home. If there was one they failed in delivery, if there wasn’t one than it should have been better prepared. Since they pay to talk I’d say they should leave the audience with a strong statement, to maximise the opportunity. Overall views of your company (or a product range, ….) risk easily to be bland and not convey strong value.