The art of presenting has always been held as a key business skill. Whether it is a Steve Jobs style delivery in the auditorium, or a team delivering an intimate new business pitch — getting it right counts. While this may not be surprising, what is, according to new research by global technology company Barco, is the fact that technology has a major role to play in success.
Conducted across businesses in the UK, US, France and Germany, the research revealed that 95% of employees believe that there is a wider impact of presenting well. In the UK, 55% said presenting helped build an organisation’s reputation, while 48% were able to win new business. But ‘getting presenting right’ to achieve these results is still proving difficult.
These findings highlight both how important technology has become in day to day business life and the fact that it is still the source of so much trouble, strife and personal stress. In the minds of employees, presentation success and technology have become intertwined. With 81% of respondents experiencing technical problems, it is telling that having ‘no technical problems’ is even regarded as a measure of a success for a presentation.
Importantly, presenting is not all about technology. It is also about the individual, their skills and the presentation itself. Respondents in the survey identified subject matter expertise, ability to explain complex topics in a simple way and successfully responding to audience feedback and questions as the most important presentation skills. In effect, technology is more of an enabler — whether that’s hosting a meeting or delivering a presentation. However, one-third of respondents thought that the presenter and technology were equally important, while 13% actually said technology was the most important element.
This finding is not particularly surprising. Most business presenters have grown up with PowerPoint and know little of alternatives. It has become the default option and many see a deck of slides as ‘the presentation’, with the result that it seems like a disaster when technical problems occur. Over a third still see the ability to use technology effectively (34%) as a key to a successful presentation, with around four in ten (41%) stating that not having a backup plan for something going wrong (e.g. technology failure) is a key mistake to avoid when making a presentation.
Presenting in itself is an intrinsically stressful experience and technical problems beforehand can exacerbate that. Despite the stresses that technology can cause, only a third of respondents consider it important to understand how technology works. This is a mistake because it is only by understanding the technology that users can start to get to grips with it, control it and make it work to enhance their performance.
Use of technology also needs to be included within presentation skills training in a holistic way, whereby trainees first learn to put technology in its proper place as a support tool. Then they need to learn how to use it and, perhaps most crucial of all, how to connect it all together.
If such training is positioned on a par with the more traditional aspects of public speaking, it will help to overcome pitfalls identified in the research such as ‘not fully considering technology required’ and ‘not having a backup plan’. This will make for smoother-running presentations, as well as having a dramatic impact on reducing stress levels. It is stressful enough having to speak, without the additional worry of all the equipment that is meant to be helping you.
The research also found that respondents want and expect better technology in their work place. Many find their consumer technology increasingly easy and intuitive to use and rightly expect the same experience in the workplace. If they can connect wirelessly to their sound system and TV, why can’t they do that at work? For 58% of office workers, a presentation that is quick and easy to set up and is wireless, with no technology issues is their idea of a successful presentation.
The good news is that workplace technology is improving – the days when, for instance, videos were expected to fail in almost every presentation are largely gone. Huge advances have been made with big screens and the technology in meeting rooms, and connectivity is becoming so much easier with innovative wireless presentation systems.
As presenters get the opportunity to use this kind of connectivity more regularly, they will find a number of benefits, each of which will impact on their presentation style, for example not having to worry about cables. One of the benefits of wireless connectivity is the freedom of set up positioning and movement it gives you. And more than that, if this technology is easy to use with little set-up time needed and no training on how to use it, then even better. Presenters rarely have the luxury of spending time acquainting themselves with the presentation technology beforehand, so systems that are intuitive and require no tutorials can only help presentation skills.
Delivering a good presentation is about a combination of things — the public speaking skill of the presenter, the engaging content and the technical smooth running of the ‘show’. Using techniques to get these elements right up front increases the chances of success, while always remembering the presenter is the most important part of the presentation. Presenters can use the right technology to showcase this and deliver the greatest business impact.