No More Flip Charts

Tips for High-Tech Presentations

You've been asked by the board of a large corporate bank to recommend whether they should retain ownership of their headquarters building or do a sale leaseback. You've completed your research and reached a conclusion. Now you're ready to prepare your report.

You want this to go over well: you want to be concise, clear, compelling, and, most of all, you want to convince the board of directors to accept your recommendation. You must now decide how you are going to convey all of the research, data, and conclusions to them in the most professional manner available.

Your first reaction, which is probably correct, is to prepare a written report. But you don't need to stop there. Think about the best way to increase their understanding of comparable rents in the CBD or the amount of vacant space in the market. Written text will get the information across, but is it the only way?

Certainly not! As real estate professionals, we are in the presentation and promotion business. We're constantly presenting our ideas and opinions on real estate opportunities to potential clients and customers. The better we are at communicating our information and ideas, the greater our success will be.

Today's real estate professionals rely on more than just the written word to get their message across. Audiences today are exposed to television, movies-an onslaught of information presented visually and orally. For better or worse, the exposure has shortened attention spans and increased the need to get the point across in the clearest way possible in the shortest amount of time.

Whether dealing with a board of directors or a single client, we all need to consider not only the message but also the correct presentation for that message. What follows are 10 tips for choosing and improving your presentations, making your report-whether it is written, oral, or provided on disk-more readable and easier to understand using current technology.

These ideas rely on the use of graphics presentation software-powerful computer programs that combine analysis with presentation, letting you translate your spreadsheets into easy-to-understand graphs and charts. With the use of some standard equipment such as an overhead or a slide projector, you can translate your written report into an impressive visual presentation that's sure to move clients to action.

1.Use graphics.
No reader enjoys plowing through pages of dry text and facts. Punctuating a written report with selected information presented as charts, graphs, maps, logos, clip art, or text boxes makes it more readable and significantly increases the reader's retention. In the last few years, newspapers, magazines, and quality promotional material have all picked up this technique for getting the message across.

With the computer graphics programs available today, generating your entire report of charts, graphs, and text in your own office is as easy as typing a document. Hundreds of programs can help you capture the attention of your audience and present a compelling, understandable, motivating report. (For a list of some of these programs, see page 30.)

2. Present your written report after your visual presentation.
Consider the opening example, your presentation to the bank's board of directors. You want to impress them with your knowledge of the market and your ability to make highly professional analyses and recommendations. Do you pass around copies of the report to each member of the board and then stand before them in the board room and deliver your presentation? Not unless you want to die a slow, agonizing death. Your audience will listen to you for about 30 seconds-if you're really good-then they will start leafing through the report, looking for the area that most interests them. In the first minute, you'll lose your audience.

Instead, give them the written report after you've concluded your presentation. This will help avoid recurring questions and uncertainty about the facts, figures, and recommendationsyou've so eloquently presented.

3. Add color to your visual presentation.
An overhead projector showing your charts and graphs in vivid color will be much easier for your audience to comprehend. Color charts comparing rental rates or vacancy trends are more effective than you talking through the report. Five or six overhead transparencies, combined with some appropriate discussion, will get your message across quickly and professionally.

Most graphics presentation programs make it easy to create outstanding transparencies from data. Many color ink jet printers (priced around $600) can print on transparency film, but check with your supplier to be sure which ones do. Color laser printers, which are a bit more expensive but are higher quality, also print on transparencies. Another less-expensive option is to use a color laser printer at a full-service copy center.

Experiment with your printing options: consider printing in landscape (wide) mode rather than portrait (tall), and try one on an overhead before you decide which you prefer. Be sure to use large print (at least 16-point type) on your overheads, so that your audience can easily read them. Also, check that the typeface and colors you create on your computer screen look the same when viewed on the overhead transparency.

4. Create a slide show.
Keeping a group focused on the flow of information as you deliver it is vital to the success of your presentation. The use of slides lets you answer questions before moving on to the next idea. You can also move forward or backward in the slide program to reinforce a point.

In addition to preparing documents and overhead transparencies, most presentation software can create entire slide shows. You create the art on the computer and send the disk to a slide service company, which converts the digital image on the computer "slide" to a 35mm slide for use in a projector. Like your transparencies or screen presentation, the slides in your presentation should have a consistent look to them, possibly using your company's logo in the border or your company's color scheme.

5. Use a liquid display crystal (LCD) color projection panel.
An LCD projection panel is a transparent computer screen. Laid over an overhead projector, it projects the image from your computer screen through the overhead onto a large screen. The projection panel is connected to the computer with cables.

Using a projection panel, you can run a presentation directly from your laptop computer. The LCD projection panel works very well in a group presentation, sales meeting, or computer training class. Whatever is on the computer screen is projected on the large screen in front of the room.

The projection panel allows great flexibility but also creates its own set of problems. First, the cost of an LCD projection panel may be prohibitive-you may pay anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 for the panel. Another difficulty is the need for an overhead projector. This severely limits it as a traveling show, since no one wants to be burdened with two extra pieces of cumbersome hardware. (If you have no access to an overhead projector, ask if your client has a large computer screen you can use to make your presentation to a small group of people.) But in places where you can count on a good overhead projector being available, the projection panel offers stunning presentation options. Be certain that a high intensity projector is available, with a minimum of 4,000 lumens of light. Without a high intensity projector you may have to darken the room completely instead of just lowering the lights.

There is also a newer type of projection panel that serves the same purpose as an LCD panel but is more portable and does not need an overhead projector. It plugs right into the wall and into the computer and has a self-contained light source. Again, though, the technology is pricy at $7,000 to $9,000.

In all visual presentations using a projected image, be sure your screen is in an area of the room that can be darkened or, at least, is not under a light fixture. Your audience will appreciate that minor attention to detail.

6. Add sound or video.
Many of the programs allow sound, either voice narration or music, to be integrated into the screen or slide program. Live video from your video camera can be brought into the program, with the addition of a video converter, which costs between $300 and $500, and a computer sound card. You can also rent a digital camera, which puts the photos on a minature floppy disk instead of 35mm film, so you can take photos of a building and import them into your computer. The applications of these programs are limited only by your imagination and creativity.

7. Think one-on-one.
With many presentation programs, you can create a marketing "show" for a property, using charts, graphs, photos, maps, and text. Place the presentation on a floppy disk and you can mail it to anyone in the world who has access to a computer operating under the Windows program. The prospect simply inserts the disk, starts the program with a few keystrokes, and a full-color program runs automatically. (Most of the better presentaion programs place enough of the program on the disk so it can be run without the client needing to have the software.) You create the timing of the information, the transition between slides, and the flow of information onto the screen. This type of presentation will have greater application as we move toward a more global marketplace.

8. Keep it simple.
Presentation programs offer many choices for color, typeface, type size, and graphics. It's easy to overwhelm your audience (and lose your message) with too many changes, too many colors, and unnecessary graphics. This holds true for written, visual, or multimedia presentations.

Instead of sampling every color and typeface, stick to primary colors and bold contrasts. Be consistent-if your main points are in 18 point Times Roman boldface, make sure all of them appear that way. Keep your information on each slide/screen/transparency to a single idea and present only three or four bullet points per frame.

9. Keep the focus on your material.
If you present your slide show directly from your computer using an LCD projection screen, you must consider how the program transitions from one frame to the next. Transitions are important for maintaining a professional look to your program and keeping your audience's attention. But you don't want to make the transitions too interesting or cute, because you'll quickly bore or frustrate your audience.

Try to find a simple, quick, nondistracting transition. In many programs you can choose how to show the images on the screen. You may start with a blank screen with your logo across the top or bottom. The information then fills the screen one point at a time as you discuss that point with the audience. Or you can have the information fade in or out. You can choose how the information enters the screen-how quickly it pops up and from what direction it enters. Be careful in this regard; you're not demonstrating your command of the program but making use of the media to convey information and ideas more effectively.

10. Remember that technology never replaces knowledge.
No technological innovation, whether it's a calculator, computer, or overhead projector, can replace knowledge and understanding of your subject. Equipment can break down at the worst time or lighting may go all wrong, so you must be able to pick up the program and do it the old way with knowledge and personal skills. Don't try to dazzle your audience on a serious business subject; instead, use technology to assist their ability to comprehend. You don't want them asking how you did the program when you are done, you want them asking how to follow the recommendations you so convincingly presented.

Ryan Lorey, CCIM

Ryan Lorey, CCIM, is a director at Calkain Companies in  Herndon, Va. Contact him at [email protected].