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‘Great talk!’ Don’t believe it

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in Leaders & Managers,Office Technology,Workplace Communication

Admit it. You suspect your presentation wasn’t so hot, and yet your colleagues come up and say, “Great talk!” Isn’t that what you tell them after their lousy talks?

Use this handy rubric to grade your presentation by giving yourself one to five points in each category.
  • Clarity. Spoken or written, keep your language free of acronyms, slang, abbreviations and jargon. Don’t use jargon and justify it by defining it on the spot. The only reason for that is to show what an “insider” you are.

    If you never use that junk, give yourself five points. If you only use terms universally accepted across your field, take four. Three points if you define the jargon on your slides and then say it over and over. Two points if you don’t bother defining it, and one if it’s also central to your message.
  • Simplicity. You can deliver a highly substantive message using simple, direct information. Say there’s important data in a published table. You can scan the table into a slide, as is, but nobody will be able to make it out.

    Don’t walk people through a slide, apologizing. Make a better slide.

    Pare down the data and reformat it into readable type: 30-point type size, dark ink and a simple font. Wherever you can, use the six-by-six rule: six bullets, six words per bullet, etc. Also try the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30-point type.

    For scoring, if you always try to think like your audience and streamline each slide, five points. If you use wacky default colors and fonts, three points. Ignore simplicity, one point.
  • Focus. Drill down to the core message. Each point you make needs to flow logically from the previous one. Don’t get cute.

    Scoring: Start with five points. Deduct a half point for each unnecessary graphic, distracting animation or extraneous information. Note: You can come away with a negative score in this category.
  • Presentation. Since this is a performance, with people watching your actions, words and props, you need to convince them. If you don’t believe in what you’re saying, they won’t.

    Don’t disagree with your message. That’s always bad. Showing one thing and saying another: bad. Saying something and then qualifying or undercutting it: bad. Saying “the slide clearly shows” when it certainly does not: bad.

    Scoring: five points to start, keeping all five if you don’t contradict yourself and subtracting a point for each contradiction.
Total score: 18 to 20 points, a truly great talk; 15 to 17, needs improvement; 11 to 14, this talk is not helping your career; fewer than 10, it’s hurting your career. But hey, we’ll say, “Great talk!”

—Adapted from “The Truth Is, You Gave a Lousy Talk,” Tory DeFoe, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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