Your presentation is your most powerful closing tool. You know that. You also know that every sales person confronted with a big sales pitch wants a presentation so compelling, so persuasive, so amazingly unforgettable that by the end of it the audience is sold. Why not?
I’ll tell you why not. I look at sales presentations every day, and I can give you at least 11 reasons why a presentation falls flat. And it is not a failure of PowerPoint. The bloopers I see are made by the “writers” of the presentation, either because they have no idea how adults hear, see, and process information, or because they don’t have the time or the creativity to do it right, or because they just don’t care.
PowerPoint is a foolproof software. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a fool of yourself when you use it; you can. It does mean that anyone can use it–and use it well–if you know what constitutes a good PowerPoint presentation. Whether you are in sales, education or service, whether you are a professional or a once-in-a-while presenter, you certainly want to avoid annoying your audience or putting them to sleep.
Here are 11 reasons a presentation falls flat–the mistakes I see most commonly.
1. There is no clear message.
The presentation is full of content but the message is unclear. There is lots of information, but what does it mean? If the audience was asked to state the message in one sentence, they wouldn’t have a clue.
FYI, your message is a strong statement of fact. It is the one most important thing you want your audience to remember if they forget everything else. It’s true that your message should never be written in full on the screen because the presenter will say it at the opening and again at the close–as well as several times throughout the presentation. Nevertheless your audience should be able to discern your message from the slides they see.
For example, your message might be something like: we build the best cars in the universe. Or, our software protects your privacy. Or you can count on us to grow your money. Whatever it is, your slides should reinforce your message and your message should be clear from your slides.
2. There are too many slides.
A listening audience has a finite attention span. When you expose them to too much information, they lose track of where you are and what you are saying. Very quickly, they tune out and turn off because they have lost interest. It’s awfully hard to be a great presenter when nobody is listening.
3. The script is written on the screen.
An audience stops paying attention to a speaker when they begin to read. Plus, they are annoyed because if you simply wanted them to read, why did you ask them to come? You could have mailed it in. Moreover, a presenter reads more slowly aloud than an audience who is reading to themselves–and that creates a cognitive dissonance. So in addition to being bored silly, the audience becomes unhappy with the presenter.
4. There are too many words on each slide.
Never mind that PowerPoint has a “handout” version. Let your kids use that function for their classwork if they wish. But what goes on the screen is not for your handouts. Ever. Your handouts should be reader-friendly documents that reinforce the presenter’s message–not short-cuts to proper preparation. A good rule of thumb is: 3 to 6 words on a slide. Period.
5. The presentation amounts to an information dump.
Too much information makes all of it instantly forgettable. An audience needs two or three–no more than four– important ideas to remember. Give them more, and you may as well stay home and present in the shower.
6. There is no obvious organization.
These are the presentations where the presenter is likely to say: so the first thing is. And the next thing is. And another thing is. And so on. When organization of the presentation is not instantly obvious, the listeners don’t trust themselves to follow along, so they don’t even try. Of course, that means they lose trust in the presenter too.
If you want your audience to sit up and listen, you’ll need to organize your pitch simply and logically–ideally into 3 clear topics your audience will easily remember.
7. There is no graphic appeal.
Either the presentation is on a white background (to save color printing for handouts–which a presentation is not meant to be) or there is no visual impact to the slides. The problem could be overlooked if there were only a couple of slides. But when there are dozens, visual appeal is essential.
8. There is no originality.
If there is no originality on the slides, the audience is left to conclude that you are just like all your competitors–and they have seen and heard all this before. They might as well write up their shopping list for next weekend.
9. There are grammatical or spelling mistakes.
Unforgivable and completely avoidable if you use no phrases or sentences on screen.
10. There are too many fancy transitions.
Yes, PowerPoint offers an array of swirling, twirling and eye-popping “transitions” the kids all love. But in a professional presentation, use none of them. That means zilch, nil, nada, zero. Just because you can do it technically doesn’t mean you should. In fact, those transitions physically nauseate most adults and practically guarantee your audience will be looking elsewhere.
11. There is little continuity or cohesiveness.
You know the old joke that says a horse assembled by committee looks like a camel. Sadly, there are too many camels on screen. Perhaps somebody puts in a slide they like from another presentation. Somebody else makes a slide at home and adds it. The marketing department sends you a slide you must use. Then you see a picture you think will fit in and you scan it to use on a slide. Backgrounds are different. Fonts are different. Visuals are different. Presto! A camel!
If you want to engage your audience from the very first word, start by fixing your slides. Make your organization logical, your message clear, and your delivery energetic. Eliminate the 11 mistakes listed above and you’ll never fall flat again. Fix your slides and your presentation will fly.
When companies need a dynamite coach to help them reinvent or polish their presentation, they call Fern Lebo–because it pays off big time. Author, consultant, trainer and coach, Lebo is President of FrontRunner Communications, adjunct faculty at Auburn University and a frequent keynote speaker at conferences, retreats and meetings across North America.
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