My boss won’t like it.

“I would love to change presentation style but my boss won’t like it,” is a familiar lament heard when considering improving presentations.This resistance may be perceived, explicit, limited or simply an expression of the presenter’s own reluctance to embrace change. Presentation style is influenced by senior opinion.

It is important to have the support of seniors when giving a presentation particularly if their name/department/company may be implicated in delivery and this must be respected. The desire for conformity is often extrapolated to the perception that our seniors and bosses would resist any change. A guest blogger @NickFerran commented that his biggest surprise was the overwhelming relief expressed by his boss; “at last someone is improving presentations.” It is worthwhile establishing if resistance to change is true or not.

My advice is to construct the best presentation possible and then, in advance, deliver this as a rehearsal performance to your boss. This gives opportunity and time for change if required but also showcases the effectiveness of the improvement. The preparation is never wasted. Even if the most restrictive and conservative approach is ultimately required, the nature and direction of story (p1) will have been established and influence your construction. Whatever changes are required in the supportive media (p2) will reflect this and can be improved relative to the established approach and the delivery (p3) has every opportunity to be improved by practice. The opportunity for a senior to critique a well prepared and rehearsed presentation is more likely to meet acceptance than a request to “try something a little different when I make the powerpoint.”

There is value in explaining the benefits of change, particularly when its purpose is better communication. Some chiefs respond to explanation of individual principles (?individual blog posts here) and some to the package as a whole. If the approach to constructing a presentation is a senior “edit” once the presentation has been constructed it is worthwhile having some of these specific arguments constructed and rehearsed. Most concerns are well countered by a excellently delivered presentation and the statement that this will improve communication and reception of the message.

Change is often about compromise and one area of concern from seniors is frequently in “branding” of a corporate template. The discussion regarding the limitations of such a template should focus on its restriction of effective communication. A compromise in the face of insistence is “topping and tailing” a presentation such that the introductory slide and final slide contain all the icons and corporate colours that are prescribed. In such a case, pause, significantly, after the corporate introduction and then make the second slide YOUR attention grabbing start highlighting the break from this restriction. Similarly make it clear in your delivery that the penultimate slide is the denouement of your presentation with the corporate tail added after a significant pause or during questions.

The priorities and influences on presentation design change relative to many factors. A small presentation as part of in house teaching is very different to a keynote speech at an international meeting. A very junior member of staff may feel the most constrained although I was advised that this week at a national medical research meeting the most engaging and effective presentation was delivered by a 3rd year medical student. Remember also that one word of criticism is not an inditement of your or your abilities more often a personal expression of the conformity of the senior.

The goal of improving presentations is effective communication. Simply being different doesn’t make a presentation good. Neither does being the same as every other presentation. Your boss probably values effective communication the most.

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