Presentations: What we want, versus what we get

Jun 1, 2016
Communications Training

I get to see a lot of people present.

I get to see a lot of people present badly.

And my guess is that you do too!

Last week I finished a series of presentation training sessions with a large organisation here in Western Australia. They were big group sessions so we weren’t able to carry out as much practical work as usual, but we were able to talk on the subject at some length. There were plenty of “a-ha!” moments, as it became apparent why they were living with “Presentation Fail Syndrome” — a condition that comes about because of a lack of teaching.

Reality bites

I remember a couple of years ago I was training a mining professional who had been giving presentations to audiences around the world for many years. As I normally do, I filmed him in action. I then played it back to him. Within less than a minute I saw his hands reach for his head and together the head and hands sunk to the desk in front of him. He was mortified and said: “For more than twenty years I’ve been putting audiences through that rubbish”. Sadly, that’s often the case when we film and review presentation styles. The reality hurts — big time.

He delivered a presentation full of facts and figures but conveyed no meaning, no message and no call to action. It was hideous. He knew that but, most important of all, so did his audience. And yet we put up with this rubbish day after day.

[tweet]No one likes long, text heavy PowerPoint presentations, delivered in a monotone voice.[/tweet]

What we want

The thing is, we all know what we like. When I asked my group last week what they “liked” in a presentation, they told me they wanted a short presentation: one that was useful, relevant, clear, well-structured, interactive, dramatic, humorous, original, focused and had intent.

No one said they liked a long, text-heavy PowerPoint presentation, delivered in a monotone voice and with irrelevant content. So why do we see this ALL the time?

The reason for failure

The real reason for failure is because rarely is there an objective. Why are you making this presentation?

Who are the audience you are talking to and what do you want them to do with this content? What might be relevant to the crowd last week could be totally irrelevant to the gathering today, for example, so why give them the same “cookie-cutter” presentation.

Lastly, and very importantly, what is the action at the end? Are you signing them up for something, are you asking them to join you, are you requesting they come back to you within a week with responses? With all presentations, so much depends on how you open and how you close. Do these brilliantly and the middle bit isn’t quite so important. But what we generally get is an apology at the beginning followed by a “thank you for listening” close. Not compelling, not inspiriting and instantly forgettable.

So what we need to see is more of the following: confident and intentional body language, clear and concise opening remarks that hook the audience from the off, signposting of where the presentation is heading, good examples and stories that back up your opening remarks, highly visual slides with little or no text, energy and passion, and a clear call to action.

Practice makes perfect

But, like anything this is a skill that takes practice. We get better the more we do it. But without being coached and guided correctly from the outset, we are just re-enforcing more of the negatives that we know our audiences loathe. Your audiences want you to succeed, that’s why you’re up on the stage. Show them the respect due and make sure you make it a presentation to remember.


If you would like to know how to present well to your audience, contact Lush – The Content Agency, where we offer specialised presentation and media training.