By Mark Vickers
“Yea, me too, I caught a bit of a nap during the All Employee meeting… another hour wasted.”
Sandra, the CEO of a successful company was shocked when she heard this over a cube wall just minutes after finishing a series of all employee meetings. Her talks had generated applause and positive comments from those she visited with afterwards.
Three weeks earlier, Sandra had met with her Vice-Presidents of Corporate Strategy and Human Resources to discuss the mid-year All Employee Meeting.
HR had big news about the benefits plan and Strategy was ready to announce a new market and opportunities for the staff.
The team followed their standard process for preparing for a meeting:
- They discussed the details to be shared
- Both departments prepared the necessary slides
- The slides were reviewed and updated
- Corporate Communications added the “corporate verbiage” and created a script
A few days before the meetings, Sandra received the script and did a quick review. A veteran of presenting at meetings, she was relaxed and ready to go.
Sandra and her team followed a process similar to many organizations, making the same mistakes that new and experienced presenters fall victim to.
Mistake #1 – Failure to Engage: Regardless of how much experience you have making presentations, engaging your audience is an intentional process. People have a short attention span and it is your job to re-engage each member of your audience often throughout your talk.
Some of the best ways to engage and re-engage your audience are to:
- Use compelling, well crafted stories
- Share just enough information to make your point, leaving the extra details for a report they can read later
- Don’t be a corporate “talking head” delivering a “corporate presentation”. To connect with others be a likeable, knowledgeable person talking to each member of your audience.
- Today, more than ever before, your audience wants to be entertained. Being a Verbal Flatliner with little variety in tone, volume, and speed will cause you to lose your audience quickly.
While these tips sound simple, they are not easy to implement.
The Solution – Preparation: To ensure success, make sure you use a robust presentation process and structure to address:
- Key intent
- Maximum points for time allotted
- Illustrative stories
- Audience/content calibration
- Power Opening
- Call to Action
Regardless of how many presentations you have made, a lack of a time spent preparing using a formal process will lead to diminished results because:
- Important points will not be made as clearly as required
- You may talk beyond your audience
- Speaking patterns and habits that distract your audience from the message will be more evident
- Content Overflow (too much content for time allowed) will overwhelm your audience and bury the core message
- Verbal Overflow (excess verbiage immediately after key points) will cause the most important information to become lost in the “babble”
Mistake #2 – Being a support to your slide presentation: You have heard of Death by PowerPoint, yet you don’t believe it happens to your audience. It is easy to slip into one of three traps that cause you to lose power and momentum:
- Slides should provide visual support. Unfortunately many people let the slides take over the show. Your slides should not be a cue for what comes next in your presentation, making you appear like trained executive who speaks every time the slide changes.
- You should be the “authority” not the slide show. If you let your slides share the most important information, it might be better to email everyone your slides because they don’t need to hear you.
- People respond better to other people – but slides are easier to deliver. No matter how effective your slides are, they will never compel an audience to take action as well as you can when you are clear and passionate in your delivery.
The Solution – More Practice: Formally practicing your presentation is the only way to make sure that your carefully developed content is presented effectively. To get the most from your practice time use the following process:
- Practice delivering your presentation (not silently reading it) while standing
- Video (or at least audio) record it
- Review the recording
- Refine your presentation
Mistake #3 – Failure to Improve: Your presentations will ultimately define your success and when done properly will be remembered and acted on by your audience. While the ability it present information is critical to many professionals, most fail to improve over time, typically as a result of one factor.
When you need help with your taxes, you call your accountant, your legal matters, an attorney, and to keep you healthy, your doctor. You trust experts in other areas of your life, yet when it comes to determining the effectiveness of a presentation, most people rely on comments from unreliable sources and then use that unreliable feedback for future presentations.
Do you rely on feedback from:
- Friends, family, and staff? These people are close to you, they like you, and have a relationship or dependency on you; they are not necessarily objective and honest with you.
- The people who come up after your presentation and tell you how great it was? These people might just want to get a few seconds with you for their own reasons or you may have connected well with them. What about all the people who didn’t come up? What did they think?
The Solution – Get Strategic Feedback: To determine the true effectiveness of your presentation, try the following tips:
- When people say “Great job,” instead of taking the accolades and saying thank you, ask them questions like:
– Tell me something specific you learned?
– What are you going to do different as a result of what you heard?
– How do you feel about this subject?
- By asking specific questions after you speak, you will discover what they really heard. IMPORTANT: Ask the people that come up to you AND the ones that don’t.
- Listen to a recording of what you did. It is important that you listen as a disinterested, disengaged audience member who believes they have better things to do than listen to you. Is there anything in your presentation that might get their attention? Were you dynamic and personable?
- Have a professional, trained in speaking, connecting to an audience, and critical strategic feedback provide an assessment at least once a quarter.
Successful presentations do not happen by accident, they are carefully planned, crafted and rehearsed. You have a responsibility to provide value to the people who give their time to listen to you. You will be rewarded when they leave highly motivated and taking the action you recommended.
Mark A. Vickers is a Certified Professional Coach, and Certified World Class Speaking Coach. Mark is a communications consultant focused on helping you and your organization improve performance through improved communication and speaking skills. He is known as a creative author and speaker, and for creating the Communications Challenge, an objective way to measure communication effectiveness.