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Assertion-Evidence Presentation Design

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Assertion-Evidence Presentation Design

Postby Dustin Levy » Fri Apr 15, 2016 9:02 am

Having delivered a large number of technical presentations over my career, and sat through countless more, I wanted to share an approach to slide design that has raised my effectiveness as a presenter and that I have appreciated as an audience member. The default approach for powerpoint slide design is to have a title followed by a bulleted list of points and phrases. Best case, a presenter may put a key takeaway point or conclusion at the bottom of the slide, worst case the audience is left to guess at what point the presenter is attempting to make.

A different approach to slide design is referred to as the assertion-evidence approach. You put the key statement or conclusion at the top of the slide (the assertion), then all of the data to support that assertion (the evidence) in the body of the slide. This way, there is no confusion about what key point you are making for the audience.

Should the audience be drifting in and out of paying attention, at least they will see key point when you transition the slide, and if that assertion captures their interest, you’ll hold their attention for a longer time.

Ever feel like you’ve delivered a strong presentation, but when you asked for questions at the end all you got was blank stares? This used to happen to me frequently. When I started using the assertion-evidence approach I found immediately that my audiences were more engaged and asked insightful questions at the end.

Your audience is busy, easily distracted, multi-tasking, etc. As a result, you don’t have the luxury to keep your key points a secret. Hit them early and often with the key messages so that they hear them before their attention may drift away. And, if those key assertions are compelling, you’ll have an audience that will then eagerly listen to your evidence and stay with you for the duration of the presentation.

For a quick primer on the approach, visit: http://www.writing.engr.psu.edu/slides.html.
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Re: Assertion-Evidence Presentation Design

Postby D.X. » Mon Apr 18, 2016 3:30 am

HI Dustin,

Good post - this is something that we practice on the Commercial side, so we don't think about it don't it much. This means we spend alot of time ensuring the title of the slide accurately describes what is in the slide. Sometimes, the title may very well be a question. That is when we do for long presentations.


Yes on the technical side I see Folks who deliver presentations that make my head hurt. They are ineffective, inefficient, and quite often if they don't make thier arguement right, they end up getting the decision makers quite upset.

On my side of the industry and especially as i've grown into leadership roles, Long power-Point with presentations are not tolerated well. I have grown as a leader i've learn to cut my presentations alot - Management just doesn't want to see Long PPTs. Governance boards do not want full technical Details or insights in market Dynamics that make you want to shoot yourself.

What they want is Short and consise presentations. In General, now I walk in to the room 3 to 4 Statements (verbally) on my key Messages or what I want the board to take away. I hold my Hand up and I Count using my fingers,I say, "I want you to tell you 4 key Messagse and am seeking your approval on my request to ABC. Number 1... " Then I use my ppt as tool. Some times, I mainly use a print out. I'll have a slide, but I'll direct them to a print out I've placed in front of them.

If i am predictive and fast, I use a flip Chart, to write my 3 to 4 statments using minimal number of words. Same for my slides, i try to Keep my slides to max 5 to 6 slides. The rest..pre-reads. I Focus on a tight executive summary as well (should link the the titles of your key slides).

With my Approach, minimal ppts, and use of Story telling titles, I've become very efficient with getting what I want. In one case I just rattled off 4 key Messages along with my request - I was approved within 3 minutes. The board didn't want to see the presentation, what I delivered verbally was sufficient for them.

I am now getting ready to deliver a big Project and the head of the governance board I Report into already came to me and said "no more than 3 slides!" and I"m asking for alot of $$. So adding to Duncan, less is more - do tell a Story but make it Brief. Don't dwell in slides. Use pre-reads and off-line advocacy building.

In my Team recently I had a technical ops Person give me a head-ache, they were asking for something (resources) and they spent an hour with their highly technical presentation, this was un-acceptable. So I'm implimenting a no-more than 5 slide rule to my Team - Story telling titles as Duncan suggest will be part of my recommended template along with executive summary with the "ask" right up front. I'll take pre-reads instead.

Rule of thumb, tell a Story, make fast and impactful, don't waste time of others and don't give them a head-ache with tecnhical or scientific Details. Dont over use PPT and try other old School media. You may find more Efficiency with a flip Chart or print Outs.

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Re: Assertion-Evidence Presentation Design

Postby Rich Lemert » Mon Apr 18, 2016 9:08 am

Back when I taught engineering, one of our lab courses required the students to submit their reports in various standard "industrial" formats. The one they had the most problems with was the technical poster.

Their final products actually suffered from two related problems. The first was that they had more data than could possibly fit on the poster, and they didn't know what to do with it. They had worked hard to generate that data, they were proud of it, and they'd been taught through the years that their reports had to be complete. The second problem was they hadn't figured out what their message was - their presentations didn't have any focus.

I suspect similar factors are influencing the types of presentations being discussed here. We give our students extensive training in writing a technical paper, where we emphasize how they need to be thorough and complete. We don't really give them much training in preparing 'advocacy' documents. They don't know how to boil down their discussion to find it's one distinct message, or how to structure its related information to reinforce that point.
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Re: Assertion-Evidence Presentation Design

Postby Dustin Levy » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:44 am

D.X. wrote:HI Dustin,

Rule of thumb, tell a Story, make fast and impactful, don't waste time of others and don't give them a head-ache with tecnhical or scientific Details. Dont over use PPT and try other old School media. You may find more Efficiency with a flip Chart or print Outs.

DX


D.X. - I'm curious, does your industry make use of quad charts? These are very common in government and defense work so I see them used frequently. These are good in that they force everything to be on one page, but many still fail to use them to "tell the story".
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Re: Assertion-Evidence Presentation Design

Postby D.X. » Tue Apr 26, 2016 7:57 am

Dustin Levy wrote:
D.X. wrote:HI Dustin,

Rule of thumb, tell a Story, make fast and impactful, don't waste time of others and don't give them a head-ache with tecnhical or scientific Details. Dont over use PPT and try other old School media. You may find more Efficiency with a flip Chart or print Outs.

DX


D.X. - I'm curious, does your industry make use of quad charts? These are very common in government and defense work so I see them used frequently. These are good in that they force everything to be on one page, but many still fail to use them to "tell the story".


Hi Dustin,

The elements of the quad Charts are used depending on the function. Especially within function and on more operational Task, i.e technical production, R&D, and associated Project Management-Support side. In General, if used, then on separted slides. I have not seen it used as 1 slide in my side - in General we break it out - it can fill the 3 to 5 slide Limit of some governance boards if the Goal is to map or outline a Project. From a governance board perpective such one-slide over view would probably also result with a slap due too much Information on one slide.

I would see something like this used more in Sub-Project Management or Program-Level Team where discussions are more opreational and tactical at a Project Level with a higher complexity. At a function Level there can be dash-board applicablity but the Goal here is not to tell a Story rather give update or to inform accordingly. Most of my meetings are decsision-making and less Information sharing or for update only - though for our supporting Programs, our leads do use those elments within thier Teams as necessary and more as tool for updating others on their respective Programs and Projects.

For this forum certainly an approach to consider and deploy when appropriate.

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