1980 to 2018: What has changed since my dad made presentations
My father Ruggero was an international marketing executive for a multinational company. He had sales and marketing responsibilities for Latin America and later EMEA. He was always eager to organize and lead the best sales conferences and meetings with his staff. He was a lifetime learner, almost until the end, when ALS took him away from us early last year. He had just turned 84.
I found a binder in the basement with an AMA (American Marketing Association) course containing 6 audio cassette tapes and a workbook. The title is “How to be a successful public speaker”. The copyright date on the workbook says 1980, and I believe he used it a few years later as I see “82” handwritten in one of the exercises. The author was Kathryn Cason.
The workbook contains many exercises but also a pre-test and a post-test. How interesting that you could get the tests graded by mailing them to the course service, where faculty would grade your work and return it to you. There was no internet or email back in those days!
Now that I train and coach company professionals on how to build effective presentations, I was curious to take a look at the contents.
Isn’t it amazing how communication and presentation guidance has not changed in over 35 years?
Here are a few pieces of advice from the workbook that are still relevant today:
- “In making presentations, one of the most important things you can do to ensure the success is to analyze your audience.”
- “Remember, you have to sell the members of the audience on the benefits of listening to and trying out your training subject.”
- “…did you set out the main points, the subpoints, and the supporting evidence?”
- “Suppose you make a presentation and you leave out an action step. What happens? Nothing.”
- “Enrich your talk with stories.”
What about visual aids?
When the course gets to the part about visual aids, it mentions slides and overhead projectors.
Yes, 35mm slides sequenced inside a carousel projector. My dad used both. He was a passionate photographer, a loyal Nikon user, and our house was full of Kodak slide carousels with tons of family pictures. Each one of us had a personal carousel where he added slides as we were growing up.
When I started working in 1983, I too used overhead transparencies for presentations. I remember my dad purchasing a plotter and using it to draw his overhead transparencies. Over the years he moved to a pc, then to a Mac to design the slides, and in the final lectures he gave as a volunteer trainer for adult education in our town, he projected directly from his Mac laptop and used a remote control.
Did I find any advice in that course that I disagree with?
Yes, I did.
In a checklist for visual aid use one suggestion is:
“IT’S EASIEST TO USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS”
I agree with this if you are writing your slides by hand. Today I suggest limiting the use of all capital letters in slides built with software.
Mixed case is easier to read.
The shape of all capital letters is a rectangle and placing them one after the other results in a parallel edge at the top and the bottom, giving the text low shape contrast. Lowercase text has higher and lower letters (ascenders and descenders), resulting in high shape contrast, making letters easier to recognize and therefore easier to read.
Reserve all caps for titles, headings or a few big words on a slide, but building an entire presentation in all caps should not be your default typestyle, as it takes more time for readers to process.