14 August 2009

Dreaming of sex costs the nation £7.8bn a year: the cost of boring presentations

Having just been asked to write a short piece on PowerPoint (on which more in due course), I had a look through some old files for any stuff than might be worth recycling.

One thing I'd forgotten about was a press release I'd issued not long after the publication of Lend Me Your Ears back in 2004.

I'd heard some PR guru say that one of the surest ways of getting stories into the media was to start off with 'research shows ...'

So I did one of the simplest pieces of research I'd ever done in my life to see if it worked. And it didn't do too badly either: it was picked up by the BBC website and the Sunday Times (though I hasten to add that the claim about sex in the title had nothing to do with me).

All that was five years before this blog started, so it's highly unlikely that any of you will have seen or heard anything about this gripping tale.

To quote the key words in the royal charter of the BBC, I hope it 'informs, educates and entertains'. And, if anyone can be bothered to work out how much is going down the drain each year in your company, organisation or country, do let us know - and maybe we could get the story going again.

The unedited verbatim press release, complete with its official-sounding (but completely pointless) 'embargo' went as follows:



Embargo: 00.01 a.m. on Monday 8th November 2004

Research into audience reactions to business presentations by Max Atkinson, visiting professor at the Henley Management College, has discovered that boring presentations are costing British industry at least £8bn a year.

It reveals widespread dissatisfaction among managers with the slide-dependent style of presentation that is standard practice in most companies.

"The extraordinary thing is that even people who don't like being on the receiving end when they're sitting in an audience still use the same slide-dependent approach when making presentations themselves," says Atkinson.

"If a company employs 200 managers at an average salary of £30,000 p.a., and each of them spends an average of one hour per week at presentations," he says, "the annual cost to the company will be £178,000.00. Grossed up, the estimated cost to British industry as a whole comes to a massive £7.8 billion a year."

Atkinson emphasises that this is a conservative estimate, as it's based solely on the average salary per hour of audiences attending presentations. Factors not included are the opportunity cost of managers spending time away from their primary duties, the cost per hour of time spent by presenters preparing their slides, travel expenses, venue and equipment hire or refreshments.

According to Atkinson, "The modern business presentation has lost its way. Every day, thousands of managers are attending presentations, from which they are getting little or no benefit. Companies seem agreed that the customer is always right, but when it comes to presentations they don't seem to realise that the audience is the only customer that matters.

"It's high time industry started to face up to the scale and cost of the problem," he says. "We know from listening to what audiences have to say that there are better ways of communicating than ploughing through an endless succession of bullet points projected on to a screen."

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