I’ve been lucky enough in my career to see some really great presentations, and even luckier that I’ve had the chance to work with some outstanding presenters. Unfortunately, for every great presentation, there are 10 that fall completely flat. To me, it has less to do with whether you are a “natural presenter” (I hate that term), confident or shy, golden-voiced or marble-mouthed … it’s really all about being genuine, enthusiastic and, most of all, prepared — in the right way. Here are the first five of my 10 reasons why your last presentation was a disaster. And just so you don’t think I’m a cranky, didactic scold, let me be clear that the reason I know so well about these mistakes is because I’ve made each and every one of them … several times.
Big Mistake #1: You made it all about you
You didn’t think about your audience and what they wanted – and if you didn’t know what they wanted, well, that’s your fault too. You were so in love with the history of your firm, the agenda your team fought over for two hours and the way your logo swirled and changed colors at the end that you didn’t stop and wonder if what you were presenting was relevant to your audience.
Big Mistake #2: You focused too much on your internal process
Every industry is different, and some presentations call for a strong level of technical, detailed information about your solutions, but in general it pays to remember two golden words when it comes to your organization’s internal process: nobody cares. People want to know that you have a strategy or process, that it works and that they can be confident that you know what the heck you’re doing – and that’s about it. If they want more detail, they’ll ask. For example, we’re all thrilled that you have a 17-step methodology for ensuring that the implementation of XYZ will be a huge success, so tell us that, show us the nice graphic, ask if there are any questions, and move on. The 12-minute discussion you have planned on step eight of 17? Trust me: nobody cares.
Big Mistake #3: You focused all your efforts on the deck and not the delivery
There’s no excuse for typos or sloppy errors in a presentation, and even a novice can do better than a dull PowerPoint template, ugly clip art and default typefaces, but did you really spend three hours working on a slide that’s going to be up on the screen for 15 seconds? Trust me, that time is much better spent working on articulating why what’s on the slide is so important and why you’re just the partner to help them with the solution.
The other mistake is thinking you have to follow your presentation agenda on the big day like it’s the 10 Commandments. If someone asks a question about XYZ, it’s fine to say, “We can’t wait to tell you all about XYZ when we get to the implementation portion of our presentation,” but please, read the room. If you’re talking about how you can help implement the XYZ system, and they just implemented a similar system a month ago, it’s time to skip ahead. I know it may feel uncomfortable, especially in a more formal presentation, but trust me, your audience would rather watch you fumble with the PowerPoint deck for a minute if it means the next half hour is spent talking about something they’re actually interested in.
Big Mistake #4: Your team didn’t: a. practice, b. practice with each other or c. practice enough
I know what you’re thinking — you had to move mountains just to get the five team members in one room on the presentation day, now you’re also supposed to coordinate calendars for practices? The other thing I hear is that it can be awkward to practice in front of your peers. I get it, but whatever it takes to get past these hurdles, do it. Buy them lunch, threaten to unfriend them on Facebook, tell them that if they attend the practice session you’ll reveal the inside scoop on next season’s “Game of Thrones.” I guarantee that with even just one practice, something will happen that will make you so glad you did. I stress this point because 90% of the time on that first run through, there will be a moment of “How did I miss that?,” “Wait, that’s my section?,” “We’re missing the x they said we had to include” or some other embarrassing, cringe-worthy moment. Believe me, you want that moment to happen in practice, not on the big day.
Big Mistake #5: You didn’t create a timed breakdown for each person’s section
After six revisions of the presentation, everyone has their part and it seems like the allotted 90 minutes will go off like clockwork. But because you didn’t set a rough timing schedule or practice, you didn’t know that Jane was going to talk for 25 minutes about invoicing (really, Jane?) or that Joe was going to blow through his 12 slides in 45 seconds. And be sure to leave “air” in your presentation for questions and clarifications. Finally, remember that no one in the history of business meetings ever complained that a presentation ended five to 10 minutes early.
In Part Two of this blog, I’ll list five more common mistakes in presentations — and yes, I’ve made all of those as well.