Guide on the Side – Tips on Delivering Plain Vanilla Presentations–With an Eye to Future Use of Presentation Software

(Archived February 4, 1997)

Marie Wallace made the transition from an academic to a private law librarian in 1971and continued in the private sector until her retirement in 1995. She continues to be active in continuing education for private law librarians, and has been a moving force behind the creation and maturation of three programs:

*Practicing Law Institute’s programs and Course Handbooks on Private Law Libraries, 1977-
*Southern California Association of Law Libraries Annual Institute on California Law, 1972-
*TRIPPL (Teaching Research Instruction in Private Law Libraries), 1990-

She has written about private law library management in numerous journals including:

*American Lawyer Management Service
*California Lawyer
*Database End-User *Lawyer Hiring and Training Report
*Legal Information Alert
*Legal Administrator
*Legal Assistant Today
*Legal Economics
*PLI Course Handbooks on Private Law Libraries

W elcome to Guide on the Side, a forum devoted to presentations and training. I see the column as a coach supporting and encouraging legal professionals in these areas. TRIPLL (Teaching Research Instruction in Private Law Libraries) alums may recognize the reference to the Guide on the Side (trainer) and remember I often compared the image with the Sage on the Stage (teacher) or the Personality on the Stage (presenter). I see my role as your guide. Your role may be all three.

The first column is the substance of an American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Conference panel with James Milles and Joseph Rosenfeld. If you would like a more in depth treatment of the topic as presented, which included presentation software packages and how to use presentation software on the Web, listen to the audiotape “Delivering the Message – Visually: A Review of Graphical Presentation Software Packages.” It is 96AALL-H4 and can be ordered from Mobiltape Company (805-295-0504) for $8.00. This tape was inadvertently omitted from Mobiltape’s printed order list.

Presentation software (PS) has become the business standard for many types of presentations: proposals, technical briefings, status reports, and introduction of new product lines. Although presenters should become proficient in at least one PS package, don’t panic if you are not. You may actually learn PS easier if you undertake to reinforce your “plain vanilla” presentation skills before you tackle the software. From my point of view, PS is as an enrichment to presentation capability, not a substitute for phantom skills.

Many presentation situations can be handled just as well without PS and sometimes the equipment is unavailable or the situation inappropriate. Can you imagine using PS for the 30 second elevator speech; or to introduce a speaker at a conference; or to conduct an interview; or to accept an award; or to deliver remarks after your installation as an Association President?

Here are 14 tips for plain vanilla (low tech) presentations that can be used with or without PS. The tips breakdown just like a presentation: preparation, organization, and delivery.


1. Strengthen your existing presentation skills by joining Toastmasters ( Toastmasters provides immediate feedback and practice in a risk-free, inexpensive, and fun environment. Members are professionals in other fields.

2. Build a personal reference database of books and articles. Some of my favorites are in the Bibliography What Presentation Software Assumes the User Knows: How to Communicate Effectively in Organizations. There are many other titles on presentations and training available in libraries and bookstores. I strongly recommend subscribing to Presentations: Technology and Techniques for Effective Communication ( and perusing some of the back issues. The lead article in the November 1996 issue is “50 Presentation Software Tips.” In the same issue, look at “Harvey Mackay: Making Shark-Proof Presentations.”

3. Get training on the PS package accessible to you. While it is true you can figure out many of the operations on your own with the help of tutorials, templates and wizards, training on the specific PS package will jump start your visual and strategic thinking.


4. Use images where ever possible, whether you use flip charts, overheads or PS. By images, I mean meaningful charts, decision trees, graphs, drawings, pictures, cartoons, maps or artifacts. Go easy on the bullets and text. To see how to convert, refer to “How to Dodge a Speeding Bullet” in the March 1996 issue of Presentations on pages 29 and 30.

5. Use color for meaning or functionality rather than as a decoration. Color can be used to code relationships, identify sequence, emphasize significance, summarize space/time relationships, and clarify uniqueness. Research by the Wharton School of Business shows that color accelerates comprehension by over 70%.

6. Vary the media. The only exception is if you are a polished speaker. Then the speaker’s ability to combine non-verbal communication and vocal variety furnishes the variety. If you are acquiring your polish as a “personality on the stage,” use a combination of flip charts, grease boards, overheads, banners or relevant artifacts. If you use PS, use it for 10 minutes, then turn it off and talk plain vanilla or demonstrate something or lead a discussion. Remember when the PS equipment is engaged, the audience’s eyes are on the screen and not on you–your personality is lost.

7. Prepare your presentation in a variety of formats, especially when using PS. I have seen more unresolvable “technical” situations than trouble-free ones. Even if you aren’t using PS, low tech items, such as a flip chart, pens, slide projector or screen may not be functional or available.

8. Think in terms of creating a presentation database (if you are using PS) or a presentation portfolio. With a different introduction, a presentation can be re-packaged for another audience or re-cycled into a lesson plan element.


9. Tell and show rather than the other way around–which is normally done. Tell the audience the essence of the flip chart, overhead, slide, or screen before you reveal it. For instance, tell your review committee that this year’s budget is 21% less than last year’s before you show them the line item sums. This will have a greater impact.

Additionally, tell and show can be used for humor. You tell the audience one thing and show them a contradiction. Tell and show maintains eye contact with the audience. A related caveat: Don’t read from the screen behind you. How many speakers have you seen turn their backs to the audience to read their words from the screen? If you use tell and show you will be less inclined to do this.

10. Make personal application of the often quoted research that indicates that messages are communicated as follows:

55% Non-verbal communication: demeanor, attire, body language, gestures

38% Vocal variety: pitch, pace, tone, pauses

7% Words: verbal content and organization

Inexperienced presenters may spend all their preparation time on the verbal content and none on the other 93% of the message. Worse yet, they deliver their words by reading them, resulting in delivery without the personality of the presenter.

11. Open with a hook–something that catches the audience’s attention immediately. Pull a $100.00 bill out of your pocket and ask “Do you want me show you how to transfer this from my pocket to yours?”

12. Organize the presentation with an eye to time. Less is usually more. Rambling speakers frequently put the audience to sleep with reiteration and tangential material. Remember the shorter the time available, the more time you must devote to preparation. Novice presenters using PS often cram too many screens into the time slot. A rule of thumb is to use no more than 20 screens per hour presentation. For a five minute presentation, use no more than three or four. The same holds true for using slides and overheads. Less is more also applies to how much text is on the screen. Six by six is often suggested as a standard: no more than six lines and no more than six words per line.

13. Remember to control the physical space to support your presentation. Include all aspects of the presentation environment:

  • Seating arrangement
  • Location of the speaker’s table/lectern
  • Lighting–Don’t darken a room to show PS,overheads, or slides
  • Noise and interruption free setting
  • Working sound system
  • Comfortable air temperature

14. Be passionate about your topic. If you aren’t excited about what you say, how can you expect the audience to be. I have observed that presenters who use PS often lose their passion as they mechanically click from screen to screen. Their delivery becomes ho-hum. They tend to read off their laptops, forget to make eye contact with the audience, and sit instead of stand. Good examples of speakers with passion are Tom Peters, Bob Berring or Arthur Miller.

To illustrate how these tips apply, let me describe the highlights of a conference I recently attended at the L.A. Chapter of ASTD on Building the High Performance Organization. ASTD ( is the American Society for Training and Development and is the national organization for professional trainers. Although training isn’t the same as presenting, you can’t train without strong presentation skills. Trainers make their living with their presentation skills. I anticipated the conference to demonstrate top of the line presentation skills and was not disappointed.

The opening and closing keynote speakers were Tim Gallwey, who wrote The Inner Game of Tennis and Golf and is working on the Inner Game of Business, and Jennifer James, whose most recent book is Thinking in the Future Tense: Leadership Skills for a New Age and is one of the highest- rated business speakers in the world. Both were totally engaging and neither used PS or any other technology. Both relied on humor, stories and memorable word pictures. The audience was mesmerized.

Another ASTD program module was Storytelling–As an Art of Leadership. Penny Post, the presenter used storytelling (hers and the audiences) to convey the material. Robert Hammer used transparencies and a detailed handout to describe the processes and procedures for “Using Soft Data to Assess Organizational Improvement.”

B.J. Hately used the audience’s ideas to create an outline for “Turning Good Ideas into Training Products” and illustrated a potential line of products with a large table display. She was totally interactive and extremely effective.

Barbara Holmes, the single presenter who used PS, used it for a topic which was very appropriate–“Converting Existing Training into Multimedia Solutions.” She could have presented the conversion criteria without presentation software but would have been hard put to demonstrate the Caterpillar tractor example of an all purpose multimedia performance support system without PS. (In a future column, I will share what this presenter from Leading Edge told us about converting to computer based training, what is costs per seat hour, and critical differences between reference, tutorial, and presentation databases.)


What Presentation Software Assumes the User Knows How to Communicate Effectively In Organizations

Developing Technical Training: A Structured Approach for the Development of Classroom and Computer-Based Instructional Materials by Ruth C. Clark, Buzzards Bay Press, 1989.

Dynamics of Presentation Graphics , 2d ed., by Dona Z. Meilach, Business One Irwin, 1990.

Energizing the Learning Environment by William A. Draves, Learning Resources Network, 1995.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Learning to Give, Take & Use Instructions by Richard Saul Wurman, Bantam Books, 1992.

Graphic Design Cookbook: Mix & Match Recipes for Faster, Better Layouts by Leonard Koren & R. Wippo Meckler, Chronicle Books, 1989.

How to Draw Charts & Diagrams by Bruce Robertson, North Light Books, 1988.

I Can See you Naked: A Fearless Guide to Making Great Presentations by Ron Hoff, Andrews and McMeel, 1988.

Illustrating Computer Documentation: The Art of Presenting Information Graphically on Paper and Online by William Horton, John Wiley, 1991.

The Presentation Design Book: Tips, Techniques & Advice for Creating Effective, Attractive Slides, Overheads, Screen Shows, Multimedia & More 2d ed., by Margaret Y. Rabb, Ventana Press, 1993.

Presentations: Technology and Techniques for Better Communications , monthly magazine, Lakewood Publications, 50 S. Ninth street, Minneapolis, MN 55402.

Toastmaster Magazine , monthly publication of Toastmasters International, Inc., available only to Toastmaster members. Contact Toastmasters at 23182 Arroyo Vista, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688, (714) 858-8255, or for membership information.

Using Charts and Graphs: 1000 Ideas for Visual Persuasion by Jan B. White, Bowker, 1984.

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Presentation Software