When ugly things happen to good presentations
– by Matt English
One of the most commonly used communication tools today is the business presentation, whether it be in the boardroom, with management teams, with customers and stakeholders or at major conferences. But the business presentation is also frequently underestimated for its variability and what can go wrong.
How much value is lost or compromised from poorly delivered business presentations? Indeed, how many times have we seen a business presentation that is well structured and with good content, but falls completely flat in delivery and impact? Sadly, the answer is probably too many times, and for some organisations, business presentations could well be viewed as under-performing assets.
As a result of poor execution in business presentations, real consequences or failure may occur. For instance, a project scope change may be misunderstood, or a business proposal may be won by a competitor or a key marketing message may be lost. This is not about the feel good factors. It is about seeing presentation delivery as part of the competitive mix and delivery of value.
Most executives have been exposed to a raft of techniques for engaging with the audience, use of visuals, speaking techniques and so on. Make no mistake, these are all vital areas that need to be done right.
But there is a broader and more strategic presentation landscape that needs to be considered. We see many reasons why so-called good presentations don’t work even if their content appears robust. There are three aspects of the presentation landscape that can seriously strike a blow to effective presentation delivery, and potentially erode business value.
1. The presenter is not in the delivery “zone”
More often than not, presenters will treat their presentation as just that – namely a presentation. Instead, smart presenters will treat it more as a performance, rather than just a presentation to be delivered. The so-called delivery zone is a key feature of this performance and good delivery. It means that smart presenters let their personality put some life and passion into what is hopefully good content. It is about the presenter on the day turning content into a powerful story, generating real empathy with the audience and shifting people’s perceptions of the topic. For example, moving an audience from being neutral towards a proposed project to being positive. Of course, getting the right message across depends on both good content as well as good delivery. For delivery, successful presenters use a strong performance mindset to function in the delivery zone, and ensure they are convincing and compelling.
2. The audience is in a different space
Many times we experience an audience that is “present but not necessarily here”. This can happen for many reasons. The audience may have just returned from lunch or a break, or there may have been an earlier session that caused some distraction or controversy. A frequent challenge for presenters is the number of people in the audience seemingly immersed in laptops or tablets. In a world of instant and pervasive communications, the digital distraction is ever present. Watch for this one at the next business conference you attend. Strong content and compelling delivery are essential to deal with an audience in a different space. Successful presenters will maintain a keen eye on the mood and context of the audience, and where possible, will use some audience members for a sounding shortly before they present.
3. The playing field is different from plan
Sometimes, the field of play can present problems despite advanced planning. The room is not right, or the technology is not right, or the presentation time has been cut short by say ten minutes. We often hear such pleas, and there is no doubt they can derail presentation delivery. In many cases, the playing field for the presentation can be quite fluid, and changes can be frequent. But good presenters will find ways to adjust their approach without compromising the key messages. To state the obvious, it is really important for presenters to check out the presentation location in advance so the impact of these issues is minimised.
Presenters need to be aware of all the above and be ready to quickly adjust to the challenges. In the end, any performance relies on the right preparation, and that is so true in the case of business presentations. To ensure value is delivered from business presentations, remember the adage of the six P’s –
Proper Planning and Preparation Prevent Poor Performance.