Content is king, but watch the queen…


In the good ol’ days kings were not particularly well-known for their monogamous behavior.  But a king had to choose carefully as the queen(s) potentially had influence; a king may just have been judged by his choice of queen(s).

Think about your presentation in a similar way. Content is the king; no “support” from the queen(s) can make a bad king good, bearable at best; but, a good king can be made “great” if the queen(s) were great.  The queen(s) in the presentation is of course the “supporting material”. This includes written documentation (in academia, a research proposal or an academic paper), any additional handouts that may be necessary, any props you use in your presentation, and the slide deck.

Written material. Be mindful of how your written material looks. Careful editing makes a world’s difference.  Aristotle claimed that the secret to being a persuasive speaker depends on three pillars: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is all about being deemed credible by the audience – badly attended to written material is definitely not help credibility.  The perceived effort that went into a written document may indeed shape the initial perception the audience will have of you. For those research students out there that needs to present a research proposal, if the audience arrive negative, you will have a hard time, the audience will start by thinking that you do not really know what you are doing.  Sure, they might be wrong, but too change that perception is incredible difficult.

Handouts. Sometimes slides just is not the way to convey information to the audience.  Sometimes a complex diagram (do you really need it, can you not simplify?) cannot show the required detail because fonts will be too small etc.  Well printed pages offer a much higher resolution and can be quite effective if the audience is not too large – with a research proposal this may be true, and sometimes one would be able to motivate the need, but for say a large hall of people it would generally not work.  Make sure however that it is clear that this was design into the presentation and not just as an afterthought.  Properly formatted pages could help a lot and give a very prepared and professional image.  Of course if it was not really necessary the impression would not be positive.  In other kinds of presentations the handout can often take the role of the written material – act as a takeaway

Props. If your topics allow it props can make the world of difference.  Sometimes it will be more difficult to figure out, but when used appropriately it is a hit. Two of the nicest examples comes from the TED conferences. Watch the talk of Jamie Oliver at TED2010

If you are pressed for time, specifically watch the segment between 12:11 and 14:02. This just hammers the point across.
Watch (at least the segment from 2:24 to 3:45) of Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk – now how’s that for a good prop.

The slide deck. The slide deck is incredibly important, and most often not nearly enough attention is paid to them.  As a small part of a bigger post one cannot really do justice to the topic. Books have been written, my favorite ones being slide:ology from Nancy Duarte and Presentation Zen from Garr Reynolds.  But let me make some basic rules (not nearly comprehensive, but it is a start):

  • Use as few words as possible – and do spell check even those few. Do not write out long pieces of text on your slides.
  • Use appropriate graphics, including photos.  Don’t be lazy with diagrams – printed and projected is not a carbon copy of each other.
  • Only use animation if there is a very specific reason to do so! It can be as powerful as it is distracting.
  • Careful with colors and fonts – colors don’t always display as you would like on projectors and using special fonts make the presentation less portable.
  • Remember you can spend 5 seconds on a slide or 5 minutes.  There is no restriction on the number of slides you can make, but be mindful of the time spent.  Keep the slides to one idea/message per slide.

I will certainly in future post about some details about slides.  One blog on my to-do list is one of the things that just irritate me no-end: slide titles that read Background (1), Background (2), … Don’t make the heading the message.

For now this is enough. I will certainly continue this series of posts. Please leave any questions, worries, concerns that you may have as a comment and I can try and address it through a post.

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3 Responses to Content is king, but watch the queen…

  1. Jacques says:

    Very cool ideas to keep your audience engaged!

    For slides I would definitely recommend testing them on the presentation projector before a talk. You would be surprised how different they can look from screen to projector!

    PS. From the title I thought this was going to have a chess analogy 😉

  2. […] topic.  Credibility to some extent is gained from the supporting material (see my previous post Content is king, but watch the queen), but most credibility is gained from your passion for the subject and your general behavior […]

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