Monday, 10 October 2011

Presentation Zen and the art of being two people

When is it right to tell a client he is wrong?

Is it:

a) when you know you are right?

b) when you think you are right and you have so little time that you can't afford to debate the niceties?

                                                        c) simply, never?

This is a relatively easy question if you are only teaching English, but if you are also training them to do something in English it becomes more complicated.

Recently, I had a learner/client who was preparing a presentation.

He was not used to giving presentations, especially not in English, and he wanted help with both aspects.

I'm a big fan of Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen and I like to employ many of his tips.

Reynolds recommends using Powerpoint to deliver classy visuals with an emotional punch that underscore the narrative of the spoken part of the presentation.

He disavows the use of lengthy text, excessive bullet points and other clutter that interferes with the spoken message.

My client's presentation was ripe for the Zen treatment as it was a pitch for the company my client owned, more or less telling the very engaging story of the company's rise to success.

I introduced my client to Reynolds' ideas, showed him Seth Godin in action employing them, and then outlined how he might use them in his own presentation.

Of course, the presentation he brought to our next session was the usual Powerpoint hell of over-complicated pie charts, cheap clip art, pages of bullet points and a segment-by-segment analysis of the company rather than a narrative one.

It was, in other words, the exact opposite of everything I'd advised him to do.

When I asked him why he had chosen this route, he responded that he felt happier being traditional.

I was sure he was wrong, but my pitch had failed, so I had to resign myself to helping him hone the presentation he wanted.

As a teacher of Business English I had no problem with that; as a coach trying to get my client to develop himself to his full potential, I did.

Perhaps because I spend more of my time with the primary aim of teaching English, I chose option c) and let it go.

If, however, my situation was reversed, I may not have been so happy to acquiesce.

Sometimes it's difficult being two people.



  1. Hi Tony,
    I don't know if you've seen this video: 'Life after death by Powerpoint' It's an excellent demonstration of how NOT to use Powerpoint, showing the problems with too many bullet points, graphs etc. It's really funny too. It might help your student to see why his PPT could be problematic.

  2. Hi Sandy,
    Many thanks for your thoughts and for your recommendation. I have seen it before but had forgotten just how funny and effective it is. It might save an awful lot of time if I start with this next go around.