What if your supervisor or boss isn’t big on clear presentations?

Tell us if this sounds familiar: You’ve been working as a doctoral researcher for several months now. And after having attended a series of seminars and conferences, you’ve come to the conclusion that unclear presentations are pretty much the standard in your domain. Seems like everyone is doing things this way. So shouldn’t you be too?

Are unclear presentations pretty much the standard in your domain?

Or did you recently find a new job? Then simply swap out ‘doctoral researcher’ for ‘employee’. After all, in most jobs the above will equally apply.

For your first presentation, you still attempt to share a somewhat structured and clear storyline. But then your supervisor or boss tells you that your content was rather basic, that next time you should really add some more data to your slides. Now what?

We often hear this cry for help from our workshop participants:

‘I understand that boring and unclear presentations are pointless, but what if everyone does it this way and my supervisor expects this of me too?’

Time to man up against the remarks of your supervisor or boss! Let us provide you with a set of arguments, to arm you with some convincing responses for next time.


Step 1: why should you?

Isn’t it much easier to just do what your supervisor or boss asks of you? Why complicate things for yourself?

Because boring and unclear presentations have zero impact. Instead they are a massive waste of time and energy.

When presenting, I’m sure you want to create an impact. To attract more support for your project, helpful feedback, or even additional funds. And that is why you need clear and convincing presentations.

The key question is: who is responsible for your future career? Your supervisor/boss? Or you?

You, of course! You need to make sure that what you do makes an impact. If, after several presentations, you sense that this is not happening, then you need to change your approach.

And wouldn’t that be the ultimate argument for your supervisor or boss? That you’re looking to present in a way that will create the biggest impact?

Step 2: walk in their shoes

Why is your supervisor or boss such a stickler for boring and unclear presentations? This often stems from habit and/or fear.

Over the years, your supervisor or boss has learned that the higher the degree, the more complex your level of communication should be. The fact that no one understands you, must mean you are quite the genius. This idea has prevailed for many decades. And traditions are not to be tampered with.

But we live in a world faced with great societal challenges – such as climate change – that can be resolved only by working together, across different subject areas. To do so, we must understand one another. This requires clear communication.

And then there is the information overload. Want people to listen to you? Then you will need to inspire and convince them with your words. Or they will simply swipe you away.

Changing something that you’ve been doing the same way for many years is not easy and will bring opposition: ‘I have always done it this way, so it must be right.’

Many supervisors and bosses act out of fear. Fear out of a sense of responsibility. No one will point a finger at them if you bring a boring presentation, but they will if you do something outrageous on stage…

Why would your supervisor or boss not want you to bring a clear presentation? Is it out of habit or fear? Once you determine where this opposition stems from, you will immediately know which arguments will have the most effect.

The first time you try out a new presentation style, why not leave out the name of your supervisor or boss on your slides, so they will not be addressed about it 😉

Step 3: prove that it works!

Only when his supervisor noticed how well this clear presentation had helped the researcher truly capture his audience, did the supervisor change his mind.

The best way to convince your supervisor or boss, is by demonstrating the positive impact of your presentation.

A researcher once told me that his supervisor was initially not so thrilled about him using visual slides containing more icons and hardly any text. Only when his supervisor noticed how well this clear presentation had helped him truly capture his audience, did the supervisor change his mind.

Do it, and do it well! You’ll be able to say: ‘After each of my previous presentations, no one would come up to talk to me. Now, I’m not only getting useful feedback, but people are actually asking questions and I’ve even gotten a collaboration out of it.’

Here are some useful tips:

1. Don’t ask for permission

If possible, don’t share your presentation with your supervisor or boss beforehand, to avoid a downright veto. Better to share the amazing impact afterwards.

2. Refer to ‘the new normal’

Collect several examples of convincing presentations within your field, proving that you are really not the first to do this, and that clear presentations are slowly becoming ‘the new normal’.

3. Blame us

At The Floor is Yours, we’ve been hosting workshops all around Belgium, The Netherlands and far beyond, at universities, colleges, companies … There’s a good chance we may have already presented one or more workshops at your organization. And your organization may very well want you to apply just what you learned in that workshop (why else would they devote money to this?).

If your supervisor or boss does object to your clear presentation, then feel free to point the finger at us and refer them to our website and book. Instead of complaining to you, your supervisor or boss should send us an e-mail at info@thefloorisyours.be instead!

An important remark!

We often have a false perception of our bosses. Professor Eric van Breda says that many doctoral students are afraid of their professors, but they shouldn’t be:

PhD’s think that their professors are superior in every respect. That’s not true. Of course, we are further along in our academic careers and have given many more lectures and presentations, but were those lectures and presentations any good? We don’t know because our students are usually reluctant to give comments. From collegiality? From politeness? Or from fear? Avoiding discussion from fear of asking a question that the professor might not be able to immediately answer means that you will never grow. And if there is one thing we must all do, including doctorandi, it is to continue to grow.”

We are and we remain each other’s colleagues, and we must stimulate each other. We are just as anxious to learn as you are. So interact as much as you can with your professor. Tell him or her your views on science and the communication of the scientific message. Not only during official moments, but during informal ones as well. Hopefully, your first impressions about your professor will slowly but surely change, and you will come to realize that even professors are not always paragons of perfection.”

Now you know what to do, the moment you sense any resistance from your supervisor or boss:

  1. Try to understand where this resistance is coming from and discuss this further.
  2. Prove that a clear presentation creates a bigger impact.
  3. If all else fails, blame it on us.

Good luck!


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