give a good presentationI’m not so far out on a limb saying everyone has sat through at least one god-awful presentation. Probably more than one…

I’ve been to several conferences in the past few months, and I’m not sure which one sent me over the edge. It could have been the speaker who said that he didn’t need the microphone, and was sadly mistaken. Or the guy who stood with his back to the room and read his presentation from the screen. His PowerPoint should have had less detail. Whoever it was, it caused this burst of thought that I had to share.

No one sets out to make a bad presentation, but there are so many pitfalls that it can be tough to avoid. Simple is always best, and some of these suggestions may help.

The Presenter – I hate to tell you this, but no one came to this meeting room to see your slides. They came to see you. I’m sure that you, or one of your minions, spent a great deal of time working on these slides. And I’m sure they look great. Good speakers succeed in spite of bad slides, and I’ve never seen good slides rescue an inadequate speaker. Slides are secondary.

Let’s tackle another myth… “Anyone can be a speaker”. Have you ever seen the same presentation (slides, script, handouts) made by two different speakers? I assure you that they will be completely different because of the abilities possessed by the speaker. Good volume, grammar, pace and command of the subject make your point. Confidence and assertiveness bring it home. Not everyone can pull it off.

Managers need to recognize in their people. Just handing them a PowerPoint file and throwing them to the wolves is a recipe for failure.

Don’t Own The Room – It’s a big space, but only a small part of it is yours. It may sound a little “keep it simple stupid”, but it makes sense. Remain as stationary as possible, because too much movement will be a distraction from the points you are making. Make sure that the audience has only two points of focus… You, and whatever visual aids you are employing. If you are on a big stage in a big room, you may have to move some to give equal balance. This is difficult if you have a “big” personality, but it will permit your audience to focus on the right thing… your content. Dial it down, big guy! You can let “Type A” moose loose during Q&A… then you can work the room, but keep everyone engaged.

Who Are You? – “Good morning, everyone… my name is John Langan. And today I’m going to talk you about head injuries in youth sports. But first I want to tell a little bit about myself and my business…” What follows are three slides about me, my business, and probably some other companies I’ve worked with successfully.

i-dont-careNo offense, but who really cares? You’ve probably seen this exact opening a thousand times, and have conditioned yourself to tune it out. Say hello, then get down to business. I trust that your credentials got you the gig, so I’m ready to hear what you have to say. I walked into the room to learn something. Engage me. If you do a good job, I’ll ask about you and your background. So have that information ready on a hidden slide, just in case.

Animation Is Cool! – At a conference a few years ago, I was introduced to Prezi, a great presentation tool with fabulous animations and graphics. In my life, I’ve never been so impressed with a slide show.

If you paid me $100, I couldn’t tell you the subject of this presentation.

This may be an extreme example of how too much animation can be distracting. The lesson is to – again – keep it simple. Resist the temptation to make a cartoon, no matter how much fun it can be! Audiences are easily distracted. Do not create something that will take away from your important message.

Words, Words, Words – One truth learned from the countless presentations I’ve seen… The more words on the slide, the more the presenter will read it word for word. And when he reads the slide word for word, he sounds stupid. I want to hear you speak on the subject, not read about it.

I like to keep the words to a minimum, bulleting when/where I can. A simple graphic can nicely enhance or introduce your next subject. I also try to keep my bullets to 3-4 words max. Tough to do, but it’s clean. Jeffrey Gitomer does it best… words on a slide, black letters on a white background. Sometimes red letters to add some emphasis. Everyone once in a while he adds a graphic to keep it interesting. HE is the focus…

This probably won’t work if you like to print the slides as a takeaway for the audience… good! If you engage your audience correctly, the last thing they need is your slides. If you want to give them a takeaway, prepare a 1-2 page separate summary of your points. But make sure to distribute them AFTER your speech. Put your presentation on SlideShare if they absolutely must have it.

Q&A Session – Always, always, always prepare for Q&A – during and after your presentation. There are many methods to encourage audience interaction. Ask for questions throughout. Start the closing session with a question, and put people on the spot. Engage your audience at every opportunity. When handled correctly, the Q&A session can be more effective delivering your message than entire presentation.

Good communication is about content and engagement. In manufacturing, processes are constantly stripped down to eliminate waste and enhance value. If you apply the same method to your presentations, better engagement is easy to achieve.

– JL


About the Author

John Langan Philadelhia MarketerJohn Langan is currently Business Services Director at the Penn Emblem Company, but has worn many hats in his thirty plus years in the corporate identification business… from screen printer to graphic artist to customer service to marketing director. He brings focused and unique perspective to B2B communications, helping people achieve success marketing products, services, and themselves. Learn more here: http://gr8johnl.wordpress.com/about/

One Response

  1. Nice post Don, I've sat through a few snore-fests. I come to hear the expert and listen for the takeaways. Prezi is a good tool for creating a video but not a in person presentation. I find that a measure of sucess is proportionate to the number of questions asked during the Q&A.