Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with Rick Altman

For those in the presentation industry, Rick Altman is the man with a plan—a plan to help presenters create better presentations. His years of presentation experience produced the must-have book for any presenter: Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better. I had the opportunity to meet Rick during The Presentation Summit, a fun and informative conference he hosts that feels more like a retreat with a group of cool people who share the same passion for presentations (and having a good time) as Rick. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Rick about his "true passion," too much crap in presentations, and his most important rule for presenters.

Q. You host the annual Presentation Summit, teach presentation techniques through your PresentationNext workshops, have written many books, and consult with a myriad of companies. How did you develop this passion for presentations?
A. Well, we're not saving the world or anything.

Q. But you have to have passion for it.
A. It's not just a job, that's true. Anyone who is self-employed will tell you that you have to absolutely love it to do it well. I started giving presentations for the graphic design community—CorelDraw users in the early 1990s. This was before PowerPoint even existed.

Q. Did you use Lotus Persuasion?
A. Close—Harvard Graphics. Then in the 2000s, as the Corel universe shrank, it became clear that the market for presentation design was growing.

Q. What led you to write your book Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better?
A. Now that's passion! It is my 15th book but the first one that I have self-published. I pitched a book on advanced PowerPoint technique to each of the publishers that I had a relationship with and they all agreed, provided that I include several chapters on introductory material.

Q. And you didn't want to do that?
A. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to sink my teeth into meaty topics, not a bunch of "here's how you make a bullet list" stuff. So I just published it myself.

Q. And that allowed you to use that title?
A. What, you don't think Microsoft Press would have gone for it?

Q. Well ...
A. Such a cynic.

Q. What is a common mistake that presenters make in their PowerPoint presentations?
A. Too much crap.

Q. Too much crap?
A. Too much text, too much junk, too much motion, too much background, too much everything.

Q. Not only does your book give pointers on creating better presentations through design techniques, but it also touches on rules for developing slide content and tips for public speaking. Can you tell us the most important rule presenters should know?
A. I believe it is always remembering that the person is the presentation, the slides are not. Nobody walks into a room looking forward to seeing your slides—that doesn't happen. People come to a presentation to hear what you have to say. When you make your slide content more important than your own words and ideas, you do everyone a disservice, especially yourself.

Q. Do you believe presenters—and presentation graphics—have improved in recent years?
A. Without a doubt. Five years ago, few companies seemed to care about presentation. They would spend millions of dollars on their brand, but send someone out for the first impression—the sales call in the boardroom—with a few hours of training with PowerPoint and no knowledge of presentation best practices. Today that is changing. We sold out the conference last year and my phone rings often. Companies are starting to get it that they have to invest in broad-based presentation skills development.

Q. You sound passionate about that.
A. Back to that, are we? Okay, if I were good enough to have played tennis professionally, I would have been passionate about that. This is a pretty close second, I admit.

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