Presentation Tips: 10 Business Presentation Mistakes That Will Get You Fired, Demoted or Ignored
The vast majority of business presentations suck. We know this. Usually we blame bad PowerPoint. This article provides presentation tips on 10 mistakes we should avoid accidentally making.
There’s lots of presentation tips out there meant to help us. But if you work in corporate America, I would suggest you ignore most of it because most ‘business presentation advice’ doesn’t focus on presentations, it focuses on speeches.
I don’t know about your experience, but my boss gets pissed off when I try to give speeches on quarterly financial performance. He gets especially annoyed when I channel JFK, slip into a Bostonian accent and declare that:
We choose to make this investment in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…John F. Kennedy (never)
Ya, that will get you fired.
‘Business presentations’ are not speeches, but they are how we communicate. They are the lingua franca of corporate America. They combine words, images and delivery to communicate our message. And they are hard.
Because being great at communication has always been hard.
Here are ten presentation tips: other mistakes that, if they don’t get you fired, will hurt your career or, at the very least, make you look like an idiot.
Presentation Tip (Mistake) #1: Equating a Business Presentation with an opportunity to ‘wing-it’
All the so-called ‘secrets of success’ will not work unless you do.Author Unknown, (smart person)
Really the only place to start. A simple truth.
If your meeting is important enough to prepare a presentation for, it is important enough to prepare a great presentation for. Put in the effort. If you don’t, you have no one to blame but yourself.
I won’t belabor this. It is assumed.
Presentation Tip (Mistake) #2: Worrying about your opening joke, your ‘intro’, your hair
This is not a performance. It is business. Your presentation to your board, boss, customer, or investor is not a TED Talk. It is not a speech. It is not public speaking.
‘Sit-down’ McKinsey-style business presentations around a board table are fundamentally different to public speaking and require a completely different approach to communication.
Presentation Tip (Mistake) #3: Not identifying the ‘Power Behind The Throne’
Who is your audience? Who has power? Who makes decisions?
Sometimes it is not clear who the real decision makers are, or where power lies. This is especially true when you are presenting to a group, are an ‘outsider’ or are not part of the company.
Once you have identified who you are really speaking to, determine what they are like. How do they like to consume information? What is the best way to reach them?
Presentation Tip (Mistake) #4: Presenting a topic, rather than answering a question
What Is In It For Them?
The most effective formula to ensuring your audience connects with your material and is engaged with your presentation is to give a presentation about something they care about.
The best way to do this is to answer a question that they have. Rather than presenting about ‘Customer Relationship Management Software’, instead a presentation that answers the question ‘Our CRM software is old, does it need to be replaced?’ will prove to be much more relevant and topical for the audience.
Here are a couple of examples:
This process will very often result in much greater clarity around what EXACTLY the presentation should focus on.
The topic Customer Relationship Management Software could, for example, answer:
The resulting presentations for each of these questions, as you can image, would be very different.
Presentation Tip (Mistake) #5: Not having an introduction
There are many ways to start a presentation.
The best approach for business presentations is with an introduction that is designed to plant the question you are there to answer into the minds of the audience.
To do this:
Use Barbra Minto’s SCQ framework to help you.
Presentation Tip (Mistake) #6: Failing to structure your argument
Your job is to communicate your answer to your audience’s question.
When the audience cannot follow your logic, or the flow of your argument, they become frustrated. They get pissed off. They stop paying attention to you.
Your audience wants to follow what you are saying; the logic of your argument. But they need your help. Structure is how you signpost where you are going and help your audience internalize what you are saying.
Listen, structure is a good thing. But sometimes it just isn’t easy. Expect half your time to be spent working on structure.
Presentation Tip (Mistake) #7: Only asserting; failing to demonstrate
You know what they say about opinions. And everyone has one.
Your credibility skyrockets when you demonstrate the truth of your assertions through data, facts, or very compelling logic. Data is a good thing. Footnotes are a good thing. Use them.
Presentation Tip (Mistake) #8: Underestimating or overestimating the role of design
Design is important. It just isn’t everything.
Your objective is not to create a pretty deck. The objective is to communicate your point (your answer to your audience’s question).
Having said this, design matters. The medium is the message. I can’t take you seriously if you can’t be bothered to make your deck look good. Because it really isn’t that hard to meet a minimum standard.
But don’t allow design to get in the way of communicating your point, presenting your data.
Adopt a minimalist design ethos – not because it is inherently superior, but because it strips out the extraneous. It allows us to focus on that which is most important.