Show and Tell - a framework for presentations

six planes flying in a formation with smoke trails

Death by PowerPoint. It almost sounds like the title of a murder mystery, except there is no mystery. The guilty party is no secret, it's almost all of us, and the murder weapon is bullet points. Unfortunately, the need to give presentations as a deck of slides isn't something that's going to go away any time soon for anyone working in a medium to large organization. Architectural reviews, project quality gates, project kickoffs, training sessions... the list of occasions that demand yet another set of PowerPoint slides is, unfortunately, endless.

However, some people seem naturally able to create and deliver good presentations while the rest of us... not so much. This a shame because the need to communicate effectively is, in my experience, one of the chief limiting factors for knowledge workers, whether they are enterprise architects, ITIL consultants, COBIT trainers or any of the other varied job titles that exist in our space.

Now, one of the foundations of delivering a good presentation is having good material to present in the first place. This means not just having information of value, but, equally as important, being able to structure the information that you are presenting in the right way, that will connect with the audience for the presentation. Easier said than done, but one valuable new resource in this subject area is the recent book from visual presentation guru Dan Roam, “Show and Tell”.

“Show and Tell” expends on Roam's earlier work in providing frameworks for drawing effective diagrams and offers a framework for structuring effective corporate presentations. The framework that the book presents hinges on three basic techniques and the meat of the book works to explain each one with examples.

The first technique is to 'tell the truth'. Obvious enough you might say, but the book outlines that an effective presentation needs to consider three specific truths that are relevant to it – the facts being presented, relevant details about the presenter and the nature of the audience that is receiving the presentation.

The second technique is to classify your material into one of four types of presentation; reports, explanations, pitches and dramas. Roam provides a standard structure for each type of presentation that infuses the presentation with a convincing story arc, while providing illustrations to show the value of the story structure in each case.

The third technique is to use pictures, and here Roam references his SQVID framework for classifying diagrams (essentially, to cross reference Kipling's 6 'serving honest men' of what, why, when, how, where, who with 5 other axes – simple vs elaborate, quality vs quantity, vision vs execution, individual vs comparison, change vs as-is).

The unfortunate truth is that few of us are going to escape the need to create and deliver presentations any time soon. However, being able to structure the presentation is half the battle to delivering a good presentation. I will recommend “Show and Tell” as an extremely effective resource in this regard.