Making a presentation? Beware the ‘magic box’ syndome

Technology makes it simple to produce slick presentations. But beware of thinking equipment can do it all for you. (Photograph: University of Tennessee.)

TECHNOLOGY has given us access to all kinds of ‘magic box’ techniques which, in theory, should advance our competency and bolster our careers. It occurred to me, however, as I sat through a slick audiovisual presentation a few weeks ago, that technology can work against us.

The event was much like going to the movies and the presenter might well have been an usher. Guests were shown to their places and the presentation began. It was professionally produced and the message was comprehensive. The lights came up and we were free to leave. Granted the coffee and snacks were good but I wondered, as I drove back to the office, why the host company had not simply despatched the presentation to me on a compact disk. I had no sense of who the personalities behind the company and product were and whether I would ever want to meet them again. There was no human interface and no presenter-audience interaction. No relationship was formed. No connection was made.

“As most business executives today are able to access relatively simple-to-use graphic design packages such as Power Point, there is no rocket science involved in quickly and easily creating a nifty laptop-linked presentation. For larger scale presentations, budget allowing, specialist multi-media design houses may be called on to create a whiz-bang electronic audiovisual show,” says Beth-Ann Galvin, managing director for Business Presentation Skills.

“However, because it is so easy to integrate technology into business presentations, there is a real risk of becoming over-reliant on equipment and we need to beware of falling prey to the ‘magic box syndrome’ and losing the crucial personal touch.”

Galvin believes that no electronic presentation, no matter how spectacular, can replace the person who represents the credibility of the company, product or service offering. Equipment should not be allowed to dominate proceedings. Audiences want to see and hear a presenter in the flesh.

“People still prefer to do business with people, and ultimately you, as the presenter, are the message. The human element in any presentation is vital and one should never forget that a good presenter can save a poor slide show, but a good slide show will never save a poor presenter.”

Another potential drawback of using sophisticated technology is that it automatically raises the level of audience expectation. In other words, a hi-tech, push-button presentation can actually increase the pressure on the presenter to perform in a more highly polished and dynamic manner.

“Presenters should not be fooled into believing that the ‘magic box’ alone will influence the audience and achieve their objectives. The role of the presenter is to not merely repeat electronically-delivered message, but to enhance and add value to the presentation material,” says Galvin.

She recommends that presenters use a common theme to link their introduction, the summation of the electronic presentation and their farewell. This way, the host is seen to be in control of the presentation, rather than the other way around. It gives the impression that the presenter owns the information and that he or she are equipped to respond to queries and comments from the audience.

“Regardless of whether the presentation is a big budget affair at an impressive venue, or a one-on-one presentation from a notebook computer, the visuals, although highly important, are merely a tool to enhance the presenters message, not the total execution. Another key rule is do not put basic information on a screen – it can come across as patronising.”

Other cautionary information regarding the use of technology for presentations includes considering potential glitches. Galvin says presenters should be prepared for technology failure, have technical back up in place, and if all else fails, be prepared to competently fill in the blank time.

If you are presenting at your own premises, set everything up in advance. When visiting elsewhere confirm your technical requirements beforehand. Where necessary, let somebody else operate the machine. Your audience wants you to talk to them, not to a screen or a machine. Turn projectors and other equipment off when not needed so as to avoid distracting attention from what you are saying. Always make sure you have hard-copy printouts in case the technology lets you down.

“Very few people are naturally gifted presenters, but everyone can be coached on how to develop their skills to be the star of the show and not merely be the fingers on the switches of the ‘magic box’.”

Beware the ‘magic box syndrome’ at presentations

• Do not allow technology to dominate proceedings
• Audiences want human representation
• Link your introduction and conclusion to presentation content
• Interact with your audience
• Prepare for technology failure

(First published in Business Day.)

About Administrator

Author and freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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