Love them or loathe them.

I fall into the second category for the most part. Probably because I have endured endless managerial/political ones in the NHS where someone tells you something that you already know. And you could have been spending your time far more productively doing something that would improve services for patients.

After spending far too long on Sunday listening to presentations, I began to think about them yet again for the first time in years. As I’d written enough on roughseas about the extended morning, I decided NOT to write about presentations on there.

Truth was, I had expected from today’s generation of undergrads, a rather sophisticated format using computers for slide shows etc. The old powerpoint show, which I confess invariably sends me to sleep unless it is riveting.

We didn’t get that. We got an informal set up, 20+ chairs around a long set of tables, the presenter in the hot seat in front of the two tutors and two guests, and the other students around the tables. In terms of being intimidating I didn’t think it was, although one student said she found it so. The difficulty with the layout was that you couldn’t engage all your audience, only the ones immediately in front of you. If I was being smart, I might say that was thereby not encouraging discussion from the other students as it was effectively demoting them to the ranks of the unimportant.

X ———————————— X
X X X 1 2 3 4 X X X

No, it is not a mathematical formula. P = Presenter, and 123&4 = the two tutors and guests. X = the students.

Afterwards, I thought to myself – what IS a presentation? Although I’d expected one specific type, I realised it was a much broader description of any public address or public speaking where basically, one person gets up in front of others and talks. With or without props (pictures) or prompts (cue notes).


I thought back to the first time I’d had to do that. Junior school or maybe first year of senior school. Choose a topic, prepare your notes and speak for five minutes or so. I have to say I was terrified. I didn’t know what to talk about. I went home and asked my parents’ advice. ‘It’s easy,’ said my father loftily, who to be fair, could talk the hind leg off a donkey, as can my partner. Is it a male thing I wonder? Anyway, my father suggested I talk about our caravan holidays. ‘No need for notes,’ he said. ‘Just open your mouth and the words will come.’ I’m sure you can guess what happened. After 30 seconds I had dried up. ‘We spend our holidays in a caravan, it’s really nice.’ Or words to that effect. What else was there to say?

And that has probably coloured my view ever since. My school encouraged public speaking. Or rather it picked the girls with potential, encouraged them, and the rest of us were left to wilt with our lack of confidence.

After school

We didn’t have presentations at university. Journalists don’t do presentations. They spend their time reporting on others making speeches. Perhaps another nail in my public speaking presentational coffin. I learned to listen, observe, write, and report. But not to speak.

After the useless caravan début, I think the next one was chairing a press conference. It was in Aberdeen, and our office was making a big fuss over this one, some new long-awaited docks regs. Our office manager, who had tastes above his income, was allowed to order smoked salmon and chablis for the event (he didn’t get to go, just me).

I flew up to Aberdeen from London and stayed overnight. Come the morning of the event, I was up bright and early wandering around the harbour. Very nice. Introducing the press conference, not even difficult, as we were all sitting around a nice oval table, I lacked words yet again.

‘Hello, thank you for coming, this is to introduce the new docks regs, here are our two speakers and afterwards there is a little something upstairs for you all.’ Ooops. A little something upstairs could have been anything. I was too embarrassed to say chablis and smoked salmon, so tried to unsuccessfully downplay it.

After that, I avoided presentations of any type until I joined the bloody NHS.

The presentation-obsessed NHS

If the NHS spent far less time on presentations and more time on managing, taxpayers might see better value for money.

But the NHS is a good example of the different type of presentations.

1) The ones I actually enjoyed.

Listening to, not making I hasten to add. Clinical ones. I enjoyed going to conferences/workshops/events about cancer. There was loads to learn about different techniques, survival rates, treatments, lots and lots of statistics, although a few blatant bids for individuals’ pet projects. But it was interesting and informative. Good for me in my job in charge of cancer services. They were basically lectures. I attended and took notes, and absorbed for future use. No way could I have stood up in front of hundreds of people.

2) The ones I utterly hated.

Political ones (not party politics, but political in the sense they were about achieving the latest government must-do which was so much more important than achieving service improvement).

For example, waiting times. YES, we all know they are too long. People don’t want to wait a year for a hip op. More controversially from the public perspective, YES, we all know that a few weeks or months is not a major issue for breast cancer. Sorry people but it is true. There was severe resistance from breast surgeons about the introduction of waiting times targets for breast cancer ops.

But I don’t need to spend a day in London to listen to someone telling me why waiting times are important. I know to the person who is worried it is paramount. My time could have been better used working with colleagues in the hospitals to speed up the system instead of getting on the train at 5.30, spending all day in a boring hotel, and getting home at 9 or 10pm.

3) In the middle, were smaller meetings with an agenda, where someone had to make a presentation about their issue.

a) For example, a board meeting. This never did compute to me. If there are board papers sent out, why would someone need to stand up and make a presentation, complete with slideshow, or before that OHPs, about something that everyone had read? I hated doing that as well. RTFM or in this case, RTFPapers. These were all about show too.

b) But, a meeting with an agenda and papers, where people briefly introduce their proposal (or whatever) and open up for discussion is totally different. Everyone SHOULD have done their homework read their papers, and can contribute towards whatever recommendation is being made. It’s informed, informal in style, but formally recorded with minutes. It’s a presentation in a way, but of a different type.

What is a presentation (again)?

This is what my computer dictionary has to say about presentations, well about one of the five on its list:

4 a sales presentation demonstration, talk, lecture, address, speech, show, exhibition, display, introduction, launch, launching, unveiling.

That pretty much summarises the NHS sales pitch, my PR events, and what I reported on as a journalist.

Another demotivating factor in my lack of public speaking skills was one of my bosses. We were running a public consultation back in the early 90s about closing a hospital. It was all the rage back then to close hospitals under Thatcher. I was in charge of the PR ie trying to mitigate the backlash.

I was totally in awe of my chief exec. He dressed immaculately (I did advise he use blue shirts/ties for appearances to match his blue eyes), was totally articulate, no prompts, no cues, no nada. He was so in control of the overhead projector and his slides, didn’t need to look at them, just at the audience, and on top of that, he nimbly danced around the electrical leads. Just. Wow!

At the other end of the spectrum was a hospital chief exec. Cranky bastard, although I secretly admired him too.

‘Hi, can I speak to XXX,’ I would say to his secretary with the gold ankle bracelet who he was allegedly shagging. She would normally put people off.

‘Hello, roughseas, how are you,’ he would invariably say around 5.30/6pm when I spoke to him. I was NOT high enough up the rankings for a chief exec to speak to me but when he was in, he always took the call. Odd guy.

So I went to one of his presentations. He leaned at the back of the stage of the huge lecture theatre and said he wasn’t into fancy presentations (bit of a dig at my CE I suspected), absolutely no slides at all, so we all had to listen. He spoke well for however long, and he was good. Very good. I admired him ever after for that alone.

The NHS introduced annual meetings (more presentations). The hospital chief was holding his annual one and I was instructed to attend as it would be too obvious if my health authority CE went. What was the first thing the hospital CE said? ‘Oh, I see roughseas is here from the health authority….’ So much for anonymity.


Not content with filling the working day, week, month, with presentations of any type, the NHS insisted that any job interview necessitated the inevitable presentation. Why? Why can’t I write it down, and you can read it? Just like you can read my CV. Why do I have to stand up and say it when you can absorb it better if you get it in advance in writing? Def not my strongest point at interview.

The odd success

I did manage one or two presentations that went ok. One was about prescribing where I had figures and stats up to my eyeballs, it was a breeze. A bit like the clinical lectures I enjoyed, I found I could present something where I had a lot of information that people might actually find useful. I can churn out facts. I can’t be bothered to tell people how to think.

Similarly I held a Writing/PR/Journalism workshop for a charity group, and that was easy too.

I took two things out of those events.

1) My father’s advice was pretty rubbish (well, I already knew that). The only way to be successful at any speaking is to know your subject inside out.

2) I have no interest in speaking to people who don’t want to learn or be informed. Speaking for the sake of it leaves me cold. Sharing information and knowledge is worth the effort.

Chairing meetings

Somewhere along the way I managed that one. Water off a duck’s back. By the time I left the NHS I was chairing countless meetings. I’d suddenly learned it was easy. Well, it was if you got other people to speak and agree to do some work. Maybe it wasn’t so easy. Or maybe I had become a control freak. A far cry from the frightened caravan speaker. Or non-speaker.

I’m still chairing meetings, and other people do some work. I’m no longer nervous, and I don’t expect arguments. I conduct a formal meeting, although on first name terms.

Final thoughts on ‘presentations’?

For the sake of it, I still loathe them. If there are written papers, why make a visual and verbal replica and waste people’s time? But it’s very much about our image, is it not? How do we look? sound? speak? Whether we have any intelligence is another matter.

I like discussions, I like constructive meetings, I can admire clever speakers although I will never be one.

I don’t like powerpoint and silly slides that have three rows of text which someone then reads out, and then flicks onto the next slide where they read the next three rows of sub-text.

Public speaking and presentations are sadly a part of life. The skills should be taught at school, because we live in a competitive world. We should all be able to stand up and talk about what we know, but we shouldn’t have to waste our time with unnecessary events.

It took me 30+ years to gain that confidence, which I credit to my MBA course, where we had excellent group working (but more of that one later). People shouldn’t have to wait that long.

I know the theory – but I still can’t do the big audience. Max I’ve done? 20 or 30.

Here is a link, for when I finally learned a little confidence: My first CSQAG

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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14 Responses to Presentations

  1. Being able to talk comfortably and informatively in front of a group is an important skill. You said the key here “The only way to be successful at any speaking is to know your subject inside out.”
    Presentations are easier to me than walking into a party where I don’t know anyone. Guess it all depends on how a person is made – like your dad.
    It’s a whole lot easier if you can walk around. Sitting only makes it seem like a prison interrogation
    Schools used to have presentations twice a year in multiple classes (grades 3- college) – and everyone took a half year in either speech or drama. That’s pretty much gone from the mania about test scores in basic subjects. Stealing valuable time, those. Short sighted.
    We share similar views about sitting through presentations. Detest old fashion PowerPoints that are simply read to the stupid do you think we are?…oh, lazy ones – but you’re wasting my time. I actually crawled out a window to escape once…my boss knew. We had work to do at the office – and had no intention of staying late to do it because someone needed to check off a box about having a training/meeting


    • It’s a skill that isn’t particularly taught though, or wasn’t to me, and I think it should be. Not just how you present information and material verbally to one or more people, but in essence how you present yourself, because that is a part of it too.

      Now I actually did prefer sitting down, preferably on the edge of a desk/table swinging my legs. Of course our work presentations always had to be very formal, standing rigid to attention in front of our audience. It was a real performance.

      We did drama as part of our english classes and I did enjoy it. Even got into a couple of school plays, but like many ‘soft’ subjects, it’s under-rated. Along with art and music for example.

      I have this image of you crawling out of a window. Perfect!


  2. davidprosser says:

    Local Authorities have been catching up on the NHS with presentations I think and they are tiresome. Sitting watching power point presentations either round a huge table or sitting in classroom formation and raising a hand like a schoolchild for clarification.There is obviously a need for training when new computer systems are brought into play or when new legislation changes certain parts of the job but there are better methods of getting the information over than these group sessions with one person who has been on a course selected to pass on the information. A tremendous backlog of work always occurs during these sessions that is difficult to recover from.
    xxxx Hugs xxx


    • I never really thought about other organisations. The NHS could actually be quite slick at them. I’m suspecting part of it was the clinical influence. But what works in a clinical setting for lectures or tutoring doesn’t translate effectively or usefully to management.

      I tend to be old-fashioned and I like my information about changes, and new legislation in hard copy, not some drivel churned out in front of people who are half asleep and totally disinterested. And as I can read and absorb quickly, hard copy suited me far better instead of wasting a day at a conference/presentation, half of which seemed to be endless boring coffee breaks. I have no problem with practical training sessions or lectures, but sheer woffle was just so irritating. Glad I’m out of that loop. Bet it’s still going on and even worse now 😀


  3. I appreciated that overview of presentations in their finite variety…..and have to say that I would be sure to fail any interview as the urge to ask which underendowed cretin was responsible for requiring a spoken presentation would be too strong to resist.

    I begin to wonder, too, if the presentation covers the employer’s back from the point of view of insurance on the lines of…we could send you the information in written form, but then we can’t be sure that you would read it whereas if we have you in a room with your names ticked off on a list you can’t wriggle out of responsibility for whatever cockup follows you not following the information given in the presentation.
    From my point of view I prefer to have written copy…with time to inspect it for problems with a project.

    We were taught public speaking skills at school….the most basic of which was to know what you were talking about and organise the information to allow others to share the knowledge.

    Working life wasn’t that analogous to public speaking…in my line there were no juries, just ‘other barons who would understand’…so it was more like talking on a one to one or small group basis.
    Just as it was on a Rural District Council out in the sticks…

    I did a lot of chairman work….and I still think that the best guide is Wal Hannington’s ‘Mr. Chairman’. It stood me in good stead in the time when the adherents of the Gang of Four were trying to take over local Labour parties…you could bottle up the bastards in no time with a good grasp of procedure and a carrying voice.

    Your point about image interested me….I was reading a blog written by someone who worked in IT in Seattle, and dressed casually for all work occasions.
    Then she moved to work for a firm in Paris…at which point she could not feel confident until she had bought Victoria’s Secret underwear, clothes from Chloe and a pair of Jimmy Choos – otherwise she felt that she would not be taken seriously.
    I think she was missing something,…what her audience of men were taking seriously was her appearance, not the message.


    • Well, while I was thinking about the subject, after Sunday’s ‘presentations’ not being in the form I expected, I realised it was much wider than stand up and show how well you can design a few overheads/powerpoint slideshow.

      I love your thoughts about an interview. Ojala I could have done that. It was just expected. As much as a CV. I groaned every time I read the topic on the invitation to interview letter. Ten minutes on the local scenario, how you view the proposed legislation on mental health, you name it, they came up with ridiculous topics to summarise in a short space of time. If you were slick and looked good you could probably have talked about why I loathe making presentations in the NHS, they wouldn’t have listened.

      You might be right about the legal issue. Work wanted volunteers to be H&S assessors. One of our secretaries refused to go on the course saying she wasn’t willing to take on that responsibility. Quite right too. I went on it, out of interest, but refused to do any assessing. But normally the presentations were not about following procedure, they were just boring old propaganda. NHS? Nanny Hitler State?

      Absolutely, I would always go for written copy, especially as you then have it for reference, plus if it is legislation derived, then I would expect a copy of the official EL or SI or whatever.

      Nope, our public speaking was nowhere near that. Just have you got a nice voice and do you sound authoritative. I’ve no idea what the chosen few were taught. I could do readings when I was younger, but as I grew older, any confidence must have faded as I stuck to books.

      I suppose it depended on which area of law you dealt with, but in criminal law there were a fair few juries and packed courtrooms. Bit like those TV shows 😀

      I’ve not read it or heard of it. While I bemoaned my father’s poor advice about public speaking, his advice on running meetings was sound. Not sure whether it came from his union days but he was red hot on procedure and points of order. Handy being a chair when you know how to expect opposition, not that I usually get too much.

      Ironically, although there was entrenched sexism in the NHS, if you knew your subject in day to day life (rather than the interview crap), you gained respect. When I finally left, all my ‘sorry you are going’ letters came from clinical colleagues in hospitals, rather than managers in my own health authority 😀


      • Labour law was distinctly lacking in glamour….though you could occasionally make whoopee in the Court of Appeal – and once in the House of Lords where it was all very subfusc and their Lordships were charming.
        I’m not sure how I would handle jury work… with whip and chair I suspect…

        If your father was a union man he would probably have come across Wal Hannington’s book…most unions had a stock for their officials and shop stewards.

        The mere thought of handling equipment any more complicated than a file card fills me with dread.


        • Yes I don’t think labour law could quite compete with murder, rape, even the odd GBH, major drug deals etc. I did have quite a crush on one of our small petty criminals in magistrates’ court, quite cute he was. Shame he went down that road, he got harder and tougher. No idea where he is now, ok, maybe I have.

          I love the idea of juries, but the reality ….

          A quick search (on tinties) would suggest that although he never mentioned it, nasty communist Mr WH, I suspect he did imbibe it. His rhetoric sounds very familar. Especially point of order, and putting to this that and the other. Most of what Mr WH says is sound. I don’t agree with a time limit for an item, because who is to say what people will want to discuss or not? But apart from that, pretty good.

          An agenda is essential, as are SOs. We don’t have any and it is griping the hell out of me so I am thinking of making myself more work and writing some. I just wish I could put my hands on some of the ones I had written before.

          My one big issue is NO Any Other Business. I did get that from my dad so maybe it was a Wal thing. No-one is prepared, no notice, no papers, no nada. Everyone gets notice of meetings, and has the opportunity to present items – and STILL – they say, ‘Id just like to add …’ It’s not acceptable. It’s discourteous and means I can’t run a meeting properly. It’s like tabling bloody papers which also sends me ballistic.

          File cards? Loathe them. Although I do like filing 😀


          • File cards are great for speaking….write the points in your argument so that they are legible when you are speaking, hold them in your hand and discard as you go along…


          • You need to be very clever and slick to do that well. I’ve seen people doing it and making it look so amateurish. And the same people that can handle file cards as cue cards well, can also manage OHPs and passable powerpoint. But the ones who can stand up and talk, without notes or slides or computer presentation are the ones I admire the most. Sadly sometimes visual aids do add something to a talk, eg when I spoke about prescribing it would be pretty meaningless to show the changes made between prescribing generic drugs and brand name ones without a few graphs, or pie charts or whatever but that sort of presentation is bordering on a lecture as it is factual and not political drivel.


          • I found the cards easy….and would have freaked at the idea of having to manage an overhead projector or power point.
            I suppose it is a fear of having the thing run amok, out of my control….


          • I thought the OHP was difficult, putting the slides on in exactly the correct position ie not slanting and totally centred, and even worse, avoiding tripping over the bloody wires that seemed to be all over the place. The boss I admired virtually danced around while he was doing it, so neat on his feet. I thought his footwork the best part of his skills (his shoes were immaculate too of course).

            I don’t think it would have run amok, just floored you 🙂


  4. Not surprisingly I felt a lot in common with your assessment, especially the items related to PowerPoint. Though it can be a useful tool when used sparingly I still feel there is no worse torture than having to sit through presentations in which PowerPoint slides (and not anything useful) is the focus.
    And as for those government “ra-ra-ra we’re on top of things” presentations: Yup.
    One big reaction I am having is that you have brought me right through my own evolution as a speaker. These days I do it from time to time and, so take it in stride but you made me reflect on changes.
    As a young child I was carefree and clueless enough that it did not bother me.
    With puberty, though, came the realization that I was just one more inadequate little nerd and, so, presentations and public speaking became something to be approached with nothing but terror. Oh, and I WAS terrible.
    But I did want to become a teacher and, so, had to get through. Slowly–slower than it should have been–I realized that the only way to get through was to be as prepared as I could be. I worked at it and learned that a deliberate, logical process would get me through.
    Thirty-five years later not much has changed. I still prepare for any event in which I play a lead in that same deliberate fashion. It matters very much to me that each effort is my best effort. I get by but I am under no illusions that I am a natural or in any way gifted. What I am is a professional, someone who has skills acquired the hard way over a very long time but someone who is also aware of some very real limitations.
    I no longer dread them, though. I think I may even enjoy them in the same way that anyone enjoys doing something they have spent a lifetime doing. It’s my best effort and I am comfortable with the stress involved in hoping that it meets expectations. Sometimes it does, sometimes not.


    • Powerpoint? I’m surprised it wasn’t on job spec sheets, but there again it didn’t need to be as you had to do a presentation at interview. It was beyond me why this was meant to be an effective way to get something done. We all work differently, and mine was to achieve changes by working with people, explaining policy or funding on a one to one level or through small meetings. Lecturing people is fine for sharing information, but not or changing peoples’ views or behaviour.

      I said above, I think I got worse as I got older, for whatever reason. Conscious of appearance I suppose, as you say, with puberty. Suddenly realising that being top of the class for tests, essays, etc doesn’t matter when you have to stand up and sound and look good.

      Your delivery as a teacher, sounds more like mine as a chair or a meeting participant. I write my papers, I spend a lot of time on them, and I know my subject inside out and back to front, anticipate most questions and can handle then odd left of centre one, or out of field, or whatever it is called. Which is why the only two successful presentations I can remember where when I knew my subject extremely well. But it wasn’t silly political speak, it was about hard facts, so there was something to impart, not drivel. The trouble is, I need to think, would I be interested in this presentation? and unless it was telling me something I didn’t know, I wouldn’t.

      So talk about, for example, waiting times. Everyone knows that the public don’t want to wait months for an appointment to see a specialist. It doesn’t matter that clinically in breast cancer, weeks or even months makes little difference in terms of outcome. It matters to the patient and it causes them – and their close ones – serious stress waiting for a diagnosis. So that’s all there is to say about it. It doesn’t take hours or a day to get that message across. And the next point is organise your clinics so you can see people. Easy! Don’t say it can’t be done because it can. And if the admiring public knew that all three or four breast surgeons were off on a jolly in Italy together at some conference, which is why there is a backlog for appointments, they might not be so admiring. But it doesn’t take much to say four surgeons do not all go off for a week or two. Why take 50 people out of a day’s work to get that message across?

      I’m rambling 😀

      I think my point is that imparting knowledge via a lecture/presentation/discussion/meeting is fine. Doing it for the sake of it wastes everyone’s time. /fin


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