With all the improvements in presentation technology -- notebook computers, portable projectors and software packages like Powerpoint or Harvard Graphics that virtually write the presentation for you -- the fact remains that if your audience doesn't like or understand your message, then you've failed.
No matter that your slides are perfectly designed, have the right typefaces, the right colour combinations and embody slick graphics, and even video clips. When you pack up your gear at the end of the presentation, you may still have no idea how well you have done.
People have their own ways of monitoring response. Paul Lailey, head of Angoss Software, always uses two people in presentations: one to work the notebook computer, the other to watch the audience. "We show people what we can do with their own data, mining for hidden relationships," says Lailey. "Once we see people suddenly taking notes we know we're winning. We've told them something they didn't know already."
With other types of presentation, interest may not be so easy to gauge. According to Nigel Gunn, sales and marketing manager for NOBO Visual Aids, the company that gave us the flipchart, the key to success in any presentation is preparation. "You must know your subject and know your audience, and what 's of interest to them", he says. " You must also ensure you excite them during the presentation. For sales people that may mean giving them lots of upbeat information; accountants may want figures and charts.
"From the start, especially in more manageable groups, you have to be able to build up a rapport with the audience, so plan in some points in the presentation where you ask questions of the audience.
If you think they might be shy of answering, try offering a prize. It's amazing the effect that the mere offer of a cuddly toy can have on hands shooting up."
But the presenter who wants more informed feedback has to look a bit further than the cuddly toy. And many are now seeing the benefits of using an electronic voting system that lets the Presenter take instant polls during the presentation.
One fan of the technique is Paul Eastey, production director of Clearwater Communications: "Electronic voting systems can be a great way of attacking the problem of people sitting passively through a presentation."
The systems, which usually involve giving everyone in the audience an electronic keypad connected to a single computer, allow opinions to be tested at a stroke, and give immediate feedback to the presenter.
This not only lets the presenter know how well things are going, but it can also provide the delegates with a level of anonymity that allows them to be completely honest in their answers.
The problem, says Eastey, is that most people associate this kind of voting system with TV game shows. …