More on presentations

There is little that enrages me more than a manager asking a subordinate to prepare a presentation which the manager will deliver. My view of presentations is the speaker holds the information and the slides are a merely an aid to delivering it verbally. Therefore, it makes no sense for someone other than the presenter to prepare the slides, any more than the business of writing a Best Man’s speech should be hived off to someone else (although I’m sure this happens). There are exceptions: politicians have speechwriters, and similarly high-flying CEOs will have someone who knows the individual’s style to prepare presentations, or at least the bulk of them.

On the occasions I’ve been asked to do this, I’ve always responded with “But I have no idea what you want to say and how you want to say it.” If they persist, I prepare a presentation as if I was delivering it, starting off with a picture of a wave crashing on a beach and no surrounding text. Early into the “review” meeting it dawns on them they ought to have asked someone else. Usually they can find half a dozen others who will jump to the task toute de suite, which is why they have careers and I don’t.

If a manager is asking a subordinate to prepare a presentation for him or her it’s a clear sign they are incompetent at both presentations and management. Anyone who takes delivering a presentation seriously would prepare it themselves, and practice it. They’d know what they were going to say on each page, and how the information on the slide complements their words. They’d also work on the pacing, and own the whole thing from beginning to end. Getting someone else to do it is a sign the person knows full well the presentation is unimportant, or being given for the reasons I describe in my previous post.

Half the time, though, I think it’s a method with which insecure managers belittle their subordinates. It’s one thing getting an intern or junior to prepare presentations, but another to get middle aged men and women with 15-20 years experience to carry out the boss’s admin duties. It’s surprisingly common, though. A friend of mine works for a giant American company in its European headquarters in Paris, and she spends half her time preparing slides for her incompetent and superfluous manager and the other half implementing petty, cosmetic changes on the ones she’d prepared earlier. My friend is 44 with an MBA and two decades of experience. As I’ve remarked before, the activities of large, modern corporations tend to consist largely of preparing thousands of slides for internal use and bickering over their contents.

The above might not be completely down to belittlement. Managers who’ve been promoted above their competence level and lack confidence almost always try to rectify this by micromanaging their subordinates, and this can result in lengthy meetings discussing the contents of an upcoming presentation. But if you want to show you hold your underlings in contempt, getting them to do your PowerPoint admin is a good way to go about it.

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8 thoughts on “More on presentations

  1. There’s a difference between fobbing the whole thing off on a subordinate and getting a subordinate to tidy up the details – especially for a presentation to external people (customers/partners etc.)

    I have no problem at all with the latter – especially if the subordinate tasked to do it is better at graphic design than the boss – but the former and particularly the former when done for an internal meeting is despicable

  2. I do a lot of training, commercially. As does my boss, who I have been asked to stand in for at short notice a number of times. The problem is we have rather different styles (for a trivial example, he relies on a cornucopia of well-rehearsed jokes and anecdotes that get told predictably during a presentation, while my use of humour is more spontaneous).

    As a result, teaching with his slides becomes an ordeal, and I’ve redone everything where we overlap on presentations to suit myself. As everyone these days wants to walk out with nicely-bound and complete sets of slides, this creates inevitable issues when we have to cover each other. As it does when you change something trivial on one slide between printing and presenting – some smart-arse always notices.

    And I confess, I’ve had a subordinate make the style and graphics look nice.

  3. getting a subordinate to tidy up the details

    Nothing wrong with that.

    And I confess, I’ve had a subordinate make the style and graphics look nice.

    Or that.

  4. I just had this exact experience except it wasn’t for my boss, it was for my boss’ boss. He delegated his slides to my boss who then delegated them to me. I have never even spoken to this guy and am having to rely on an understanding of what he wants filtered down by my own boss, who may or may not be accurate. Who knows?

  5. Generally agree with the thrust of what you’re saying.

    And what others said above. If I’m getting someone else to help (or where a conference speaking slot comes up and one of our marketing peeps comes up with a structure) I’ll always get on the phone to thrash it through. There may be important messages that marketing want to get included so there may be compromise, but ultimately if I can’t find the relevance of the point, it’s not going to happen. If I have to deliver it, I have to know the content inside out, know that I know the content inside out and, most importantly, actually believe what I’m saying.

    Usually, there’s some to-ing and fro-ing and I’ll do some appalling sketch on a whiteboard of what I want to try and convey and then better people than me will make it look nice.

    But that’s just the look: the feel has to be the speaker’s.

  6. This amazes me too that even College doesn,t give basic teaching or training skills. Actually making a good presentation is pretty much an art and demands lot of practice. There are many ways to screw up.

    I once fucked up my presentation because I prepared in the morning but the event was afternoon and this time day sun shined straight to my screen nobody saw nothing. And there were no curtains.

    Then there is audience. Especially in Asia. When you make in too simple they are insulted that you consider them idiots, when you speak too quit, they don,t hear, when you speak loud, then it is considered screaming on people and it is also insult.

    And so on and on.

  7. Half the time, though, I think it’s a method with which insecure managers belittle their subordinates.

    That’s what I’ve always thought of the dogdamned yearly “self-appraisal” by which you signal how much you can be screwed in any compensation negotiations, or how much you can be screwed for having an unrealistic opinion of your work. For the record, my issue has always been underrating myself and screwing my pay raises, not over-rating myself and screwing myself out of a job when business gets tight. But talk about an exercise in self-abasement! If living off the land weren’t so bloody hard to someone not raised in it, I might consider it. Sigh. There’s worse things than working in a climate-controlled office solving problems with the aid of a machine I dreamt of as a kid, but never thought I’d see in my life. So, self-appraisals unto retirement at age 75 (since that’s what it’ll be by the time I get there), if I or my wife manage to live that long (health issues of one sort or another).

    Thank God I’ve never been asked to prepare a briefing for a boss I’ve disliked. I’d be escorted out the door without my belongings (to be delivered later) before the briefing was over! Fortunately, I’ve had what seems to be exceptionally good luck with all my bosses, all the way back to USAF. I had doubts about my latest, but it was perhaps a mix of insecurity and French-Canadienneness that led to his easily misunderstood language and facial expressions. With 18 months to get to know him (and him, us), it’s far more comfortable. But 12-18 months ago — I’d likely have been fired if I’d been asked to prepare a presentation. 50% misunderstanding desires / 50% sabotage. I probably wouldn’t have done it, but it probably depends upon what sort of week (or month) I’d had…0

  8. I’m somewhat bemused by this post & the previous. I’ve certainly never given a presentation. And I’m thinking hard about whether I’ve ever been on the receiving end of one. I seem to recall a couple of wanky sales jobs* I flirted with in my twenties had them as part of the induction process. Other than that, I’ve always been the boss.
    What exactly is the purpose of them? It’s information with illustrations. Why not just write a pamphlet that everyone can read at their leisure? Why turn it into theatre? Delivering a presentation successfully is going to take acting skills & those aren’t on the skillset requirements of successful managers. At least one hopes they’re not, bearing in mind the incompetence of most actors at anything else but acting.
    Actually, the whole business seems reminiscent of school, where the teacher teaches to the class to ensure that they’re actually present & hopefully learning something rather than skiving off to the chippy & hanging around the park smoking cigarettes.
    Yes, I can see there’s a need at some point for some group interaction. Discuss points. Ask questions. Why not just schedule a meeting when everyone’s had a chance to read the document & the opportunity to formulate discussion points & requests for clarification, rather than doing so on the fly?
    Or is the truth that company management are a bit like children who can’t be trusted to do their homework? The way company management seems to operate, I’ve long suspected such. Infant school level.

    *Insurance sales was a favourite. Insurance salesmen are basically conmen & the guys who recruit insurance salesmen, even more so. Talking mugs into becoming insurance salesmen on commission only remuneration. They are,therefore, like all conmen, a cinch to con. The scam is this: Take 2 or 3 of these jobs simultaneously. If you’re lucky you may now benefit from some free holidays as many companies put you up in a hotel for a couple days while you do the sales course. Keeps you fed & out of the weather. Now you are a fully fledged insurance salesman. You will be expected to generate sales leads, but will also be given leads the company has acquired itself. I was working the scam in concert with a mate, so we had 6 companies’ leads to plunder. You might even sell some insurance this way. But now comes the sting. Both the mate & myself had worked in finance. Knew more about insurance than the sales manager did. So we came over as quick learning, natural, hot-shot salesmen. And the companies had invested time & money in us. So when the proposition was put that we were personally under some financial pressure & an advance against future commissions would be required to continue, it was received favourably. Advances were made. So now it was just a matter of stringing them along with bogus application forms & the occasional real ones & banking the money. Three months seemed par for the course, before they twigged.

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