Three ways to kill a presentation

Last week, I was sat in the the Head Office of a large financial services company waiting for a meeting with a prospective client, when I noticed in a glass-walled office nearby, a noisy gathering of senior managers. By stealing a glimpse at reception’s paperwork I could see this was an internal meeting organised by the press officer on the subject of using social media to get the company message travelling. Everyone arriving was in a good mood, it was clearly cross-department; people were greeting each other enthusiastically as though meeting was not an every day occurrence. Given the subject matter it probably felt quite fresh and indeed social compared with the average internal meeting. It was all looking good, lots of energy, lots of interaction and a good degree of anticipation. The door shut and in six minutes all that energy had drained out of the room and 15 people stared silently at (or through) the press officer for the next half an hour. Even through the glass I could hazard a guess at what had gone wrong in this dreadful waste of everyone’s time.

  1. He had presumed that his content was so interesting/vital that he had no need to sell it.
  2. His PowerPoint was created to act solely as a crib sheet for his ‘lecture’ – solid text on slide after slide.
  3. His style was monologue – the audience was relegated to ‘observer’ when debate and interaction was possible and of course preferable.

This press officer is not the first person to make these mistakes, and nor will he be the last but why does business tolerate indeed accept bad presentation skills? As a television producer who works every second of the day to try and make my material enticing, interesting, relevant and irresistible to my audience, this disregard of the audience is incomprehensible. It’s also very bad business. That was 16 expensive man-hours spent in a meeting room of some extremely expensive offices, at best, under-used. There is no excuse for boring an audience, not in any business. If we are standing at the front, it’s our job to make the experience as effortless and as engaging as possible for the audience we have gathered because that way we achieve our objectives and we don’t squander their time or respect. It takes much more effort, of course to prepare a really audience focused presentation, and you have to really care about getting right, individually, and as a company.

What if meetings and presentations were regularly scored on their entertainment factor? Or if you don’t like the word ‘entertainment’ what about ‘added value’? I suspect there would be some naming and shaming quite quickly of individuals who’ve never grasped the benefits of getting audience focused. Instead of training ‘presentation skills’, which in my experience are about the way you hold yourself and deliver, why do we not train ‘entertainment skills’? In the early days of my story-coaching business people would often confuse my training with presentation skills and I would say this is not about the moment you stand up in front of an audience, this is about the day before when you plan it. There is not a lot of training available on this for professionals and there should be. An engaging meeting is more likely to be a successful meeting, a compelling presentation is more likely to make a message stick and a well-facilitated discussion gets the maximum value out of the shared brainpower in the room.

I didn’t see the end of that painful meeting as happily I had headed into mine. I’m sure those present would have been professional enough to extract some useful take-out from the experience but that’s not the same as leaving inspired, informed and motivated.

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