Many articles posted on the Internet today about presentation skills tend to focus largely on delivery style rather than content. Delivery is critical of course, although you can be the most engaging and inspirational presenter on earth but if your content is weak or boring what’s the point?
The prerequisite to a brilliant presentation before focusing on delivery it is to ensure that the message is supported by rich, relevant and rewarding content.
Sometimes it can be helpful learning from the mistakes of other professionals.
I recently attended a conference which was designed to show leaders how to improve their use of data and technology to help them make better decisions.
As a non- technologist but a commercial leader who is keenly aware of the ever changing technology landscape I thought this is something I should really know more about.
After sitting through 8 presentations from some of the world’s most recognizable and influential brands the question is, did it inspire and equip me to ‘harness technology for business growth’?
For me personally, the answer was a disappointing and expensive NO.
Presentation 1 – The day began with a history lesson
Civilization and agriculture of 9,000 BC, through to 3500 BC – The Sumerians: Wheel and Axle, then off to Gutenberg printing in 1439AD, Charles Babbage computers in 1822 AD and finally our new friend, the Internet.
A riveting opening to set the scene for a conference designed to inspire a room full of London’s finest leaders.
This was followed by a lecture about the importance of ‘leadership not management’ of which there are countless books and blogs. It concluded with a call to action for us all to be ‘pioneering’.
All of this carefully and contently wrapped up in text book leadership style PowerPoint slides shared in a monotone delivery and it’s easy to imagine how that wouldn’t be the best way to open a full day conference to grab the attention of business leaders.
Presentation 2 – Better but only marginally
Opening with a slide showing how much UK shoppers spent a week online 2 years ago!.
In the rapidly changing worlds of technology and digital information it’s hardly captivating enough to motivate you to listen to what’s coming next.
Especially when what does come next is a plethora of obvious information about how consumers are still spending online after the shops are closed, how we are happy to buy our holidays online and do business on the web with utility companies, etc.
Add to that slides full of text that the presenter talks over without giving the audience a chance to read, understand or absorb the information in front of them and you can see why I wasn’t overly excited.
Presentation 3 – Saved the day; well almost
The third presenter opened with a story, closed with a funny but relevant and powerful video and delivered a relaxed but charming and informative presentation.
What saved the day was his delivery style, which was very endearing.
That said, aside from his oratory skills he made the fatal mistake of trying to demonstrate his point showing live data via the Internet when connectivity was very poor He also used slides full of complex data which were not easily visible or understandable.
Luckily for us he was good on his feet.
Presentation 4 – Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water (a line from the 70’s movie Jaws by the way) I was wrong
The next presenter rattled through his presentation at a million miles an hour. If he had slowed down just a little I may have been able to stay with him.
Presentation 5 – More hope
The sheer passion, energy and enthusiasm of this presenter gave me a glimmer of hope that all was not lost. As she began speaking I became hopeful for the first moment that the day was not a complete waste of time and that I may see a return on my investment.
Despite a thoroughly impassioned delivery it still didn’t work for me.
This presentation was nothing to do with technology or the digital age but more about culture, which ordinarily would be fine although once again when it’s presenting the obvious to a room full of intelligent people it’s not very inspirational.
Getting our people on side and to think differently is a fine idea of course and is high on most leaders’ agendas; or at least it should be. The trouble is, when it’s presented in a way that culturally is more American to an audience of British leaders it’s perhaps not the greatest idea.
Cultural differences aside, the ideas presented weren’t even particularly new or innovative in my opinion. Even the conference chairman confirmed that he had adopted a similar practice in his business in the 1980’s.
Add to that a strange quirk of irony with the presenter emphatically making the point that she had personally banned her team from using PowerPoint to communicate and express their ideas, yet there she was using PowerPoint herself to a room full of executives.
This was a presentation about leadership with the leader arguably not leading by example.
Presentation 6 – In terms of presentation style now we were really heading somewhere
Stories, pacing, pausing, great eye contact, gesturing and movement; it was all there for the taking. The only thing that was missing was once again the strength of the content in presenting the obvious.
This presentation focused on the need for businesses to make their on line strategy mobile friendly given the massive shift to mobile use by consumers.
The message presented was threefold:
– Improve the consumer experience
– Get your marketing right
– Measure everything.
Just what every business leader needs to accelerate digital growth, a lesson in the obvious.
Presentation 7 – That’s where I needed a serious injection of caffeine
An economist presenting a deck of densely populated PowerPoint slides with graphs and charts that meant very little to the audience and looked very confusing from where we sat.
All designed to enlighten the audience that economic growth matters, agility is key and we need to think outside the box; really?
Presentation 8 – Enough was enough
After a very long day, now we listen to a presentation from one of the world’s largest mobile telecoms organisations self- indulge with a barrage of slides basically telling us how huge, innovative and incredible his company was.
Self – promotion at its very best but to what end and at what price?
As you can imagine, that was it for me, I left after the afternoon coffee break and missed the final two speakers.
I just couldn’t take any more.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first conference I have been to that wasn’t prepared as mindfully as it should have been and sadly, I’m certain it won’t be the last.
It’s totally avoidable though and it’s incumbent on the conference organiser to ensure that whatever is to be presented is of considerable value to the audience, is content rich and communicated by excellent presenters.
It’s also the organisers job to make sure that if there are a number of different presenters that the message is joined up and the journey seamless.
Finally, there’s technology
When each member of the audience is paying hundreds of pounds and taking an entire day out of their business and personal lives I believe it’s critical that the organisers are as certain as they can be through testing, checking, double testing and double checking that everything works.
In this case it didn’t and it was embarrassing.
Of course,there will always be the odd gremlin to challenge even the most prepared presenter but it seemed more likely in this case that it was ‘every man for himself’ when it came to make sure everything worked.
Content really is vitally important
– Every presentation has to begin with the end in mind.
– How do you want your audience to feel when you’re done?
– What tangible difference do you aim to make to their life or their business?
– What can you tell them that will help them that they don’t already know or can easily find out for themselves?
Remember, if they can Google it for themselves then allow them to do so at their leisure.
The good news is that we can all learn from badly organised presentations like this and there is plenty we can do just by learning from and avoiding these simple mistakes.
Of course these are just my personal opinions as a presentation coach and audience member who passionately believes that every presentation should be crafted and delivered extremely mindfully.
Make your presentation content rich and deliver it with confidence, humility and passion.
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Image: Courtesy of flickr.com