A survey done about four years ago showed that internal executive presentations were the top complaint of meeting attendees. Not much has changed. Attendees complain that internal presentations are long, boring, and appear disorganized and ill-prepared.
There are reasons for this phobia on both sides — participants and presenters alike. First, internal presenters generally don’t present professionally. They may be experts on the subject at hand, but they lack the training and extensive practice that makes a great presenter. They see presenting as a necessary evil — something to get through as quickly as possible.
Secondly, presenting isn’t their day job. This means they prepare at the last minute in most cases, creating a rushed, disorganized preparation with almost no rehearsal.
The third reason is the most insidious and widespread. It’s the presenter’s natural inclination to tell an audience what he/she wants them to hear, not what the audience wants to hear. This makes an audience resistant from the beginning. A subtle effect is that presenters also forget to help the audience follow them — clearly articulating their main points and connecting them with clarity. They expect the audience to “get it” rather than providing a road map.
These six tips can help meeting presenters clean up their acts with minimal pain — and apply to sales pitches, proposal presentations, venture capital presentations and even presentations of family vacation photos.
1. Only present new or necessary information. Don’t have a presentation just because, as in “just because marketing always presents at the National Conference.” The net effect of this is repetitive content, and audiences hate redundancy. If audiences need to be reminded of something because they aren’t doing it (participating in co-op marketing, for example) then say that. Discuss the blocks and resistances. Address solutions. If some audience members have heard the information and others haven’t, either create a track for each or do a quick review and direct new audience members to a separate location for more detail.
2. Save details for training day. If a presentation is for a general session or sales pitch, stay out of the technical weeds. This is especially true for our engineering and IT friends, who cannot seem to help themselves. There is a place for that level of detail. It’s in an education class, white paper or handout. There’s no way to discuss that amount of detail without blowing item No. 3.
3. Limit slide content. Slides are speaker support, not speaker replacement. If your audience has to read your slides, you’ve lost them. If they are tempted to read your slides instead of listening to you, you’ve lost them. If they can read your slides, and you don’t even need to present, you’ve most definitely lost them. Several rules can keep presenters on track. One is the “Rule of Seven” — no more than seven words per bullet item and no more than seven bullets. Another is the 10-20-30 rule, which says “no more than 10 words per slide, no more than 20 slides and no less than 30-point type.” Regardless, keep your slides more like the graphics behind an evening newscaster and you’re the star. It’s what you say not how your slides look that engages an audience.
4. Focus on your audience. Executives often feel that audiences need to be commanded. Others feel they’re making reports and updates. Only a few ever ask themselves, “What is it about what I’m saying that matters to these people?” Tell your listeners how they’ll benefit from your information, and you’ll have a captive audience. Give them something they can do as an immediate result of your presentation and, suddenly, you’re a team.
5. Provide guideposts throughout. Listening to a presentation is a lot harder than you might think. Knowing what the presenter’s “big idea” is out of the gate, then understanding how each sub-topic supports that, then reviewing where you’ve just been together, ensures retention and enhances the ability to follow along. This doesn’t insult your audience. It keeps them with you and is simply an English 101 basic practice far too many well-educated executives have forgotten.
6. Rehearse. Do it early and often. Do it in the car, in front of the mirror, in front of your spouse, in the shower or wherever works for you. Don’t use the excuse that you have teleprompter, because it’s actually even harder to look natural reading a teleprompter than not. Get to know the ins and outs of your content. Find where to pause and where to provide emphasis. Practice smiling and using natural hand gestures. Do it enough so that it feels and looks confident and natural. This only happens with practice.
Next: MBEC 33.05 — Plan and conduct meetings