Why Corporate Presentations fail

How many corporate presentations have you sat through?

How many of them have really excited you?

Why are so many business presentations boring?

It all starts with the person who created the presentation, typically someone in marketing or business development. They accumulated a lot of knowledge about their markets and about their products services and solutions. They know what benefits their solution provides and they know what problems their target audience are looking to solve. They also know they need to provide a consistent brand image. This is all really good knowledge for creating a presentation about their company and how it can meet the needs of their market.

They set about creating a spectacular PowerPoint presentation, often utilising the skills of graphic designers to create aesthetically pleasing slides. This result is then approved by senior management and after several iterations is rolled out across the company as out new corporate presentation, which must be used in all sales situations.

After weeks and months of effort this corporate presentation, which the authors are so proud of, then fails to wow the audience. Why?

There are two main causes behind the failure of most corporate presentations. Firstly, the person who designed it is not always the person who presents it, and secondly they have to be designed as a one-size-fits-all presentation. Designed for what the author thinks will be a typical audience.

What affect do these two factors have in the design of the presentation?

In designing a presentation for someone else to give there is a tendency for the author to spell out every single aspect of the presentation. After all the person delivering it may need to be educated in what to say, and may need to be reminded of the particular benefits that they should bring out. At the back of the author’s mind is the thought “can I trust the presenter to say the right thing”.  This doubt in the mind of the author leads to lots of text on the slides. Slides full of bullet points, to ensure that the presenter says the “right” things about the company and stays “on message”.  In cases where slides purely contain images the author can not be sure that the presenter will say the right thing.

Having slides with lots of text is not good presentation practise, as the more inexperienced presenter tends to read the slides then say what the slides say. Good for ensuring they say the right thing, but really boring for their audience, who can read the slide far quicker then the presenter can say it, and who effectively gets ahead of the presenter and then stops listening, because he/she already knows what the presenter is about to say.

The second problem is the one size fits all nature of corporate presentations. Because the author does not know exactly who the audience will be, and what particular aspects of their products, services and solutions will be of interest, then tend to include everything. Very few audiences will actually be interested in everything a company has to offer and different people will be interested in different levels of information about the company and its products and services. For example, while the CEO of a prospective client may be interested in your financial success, geographical coverage, and number of employees very few technicians will be interested in this information. What they want to know is the technical details about your products. The end result is a presentation where up to half the content is irrelevant to your audience, which makes the whole presentation particularly boring.

How can you avoid these two fundamental problems, and still ensure that your staff bring out the right points for their audience?

To reduce the amount of text on your slides I recommend that you put all the information that the speaker needs to know in the speaker notes, not on the slides. Go through your corporate presentation and ask your self, what elements of each slide are there for the speaker and which elements are there for the audience. Then put all the speaker stuff in the notes section. There is little benefit to be gained by the audience reading the same thing as the presenters says.

Don’t write a full script in the notes, because some people will try reading the script when they give the presentation which invariably comes across as dull and boring. Include an opening phrase for each slide and a set of bullet points on the areas to be covered. Finally, teach people how to use the twin screen facilities of PowerPoint so that the presenter can see the notes, while the audience only sees the slides.

The second problem can be addressed by creating a slide library, rather than a corporate presentation. Create a variety of different slides for each aspect of your presentation according to the potential needs of different audiences. You will still want to keep the overall structure of the presentation consistent, but have different slides for different audiences which can be plugged in according to the needs of each particular audience.

Of course, designing a good usable presentation is only half of it, the other half is educating your staff in how to deliver a presentation with enthusiasm, passion and purpose.


4 Responses to Why Corporate Presentations fail

  1. I entirely agree with your critisisms of corporate presentations. There are some good ones out there but far too many bad ones!

    I’d add another thought too – and that is the fact that not only are the designers/writers of the presentations not giving them… they’re not even presenters themselves of ANY presentations to speak of. They don’t know, for example, that bullet-points suck. The think it really IS a good idea to have animations on the slides. They think having the corporate logo and slogan on each slide is sexy.

    God help them.


    • youngmarkets says:

      I’m not so worried about having a discrete logo on every slide, a little bit of branding doesn’t hurt, but I totally agree with you about banning animation for the sake of animation. It completely distracts the audience from what you are talking about. Presentations should not be about how clever the slide designer is.


      • Sure – a little corporate branding won’t hurt…. but all too often I see corporate templates which have about 20% of the space on the slide taken up with things like logos. Boy, is that a waste of space! 🙂

        Let’s face it, if the audience doesn’t know who you’re representing by slide four hundred and thirty-two, they’re never going to know!

        Actually, and perhaps more seriously, is the tendency to think it’s a good idea to take the logo, fade it, and make it part of the background to a slide. For anyone that just makes it easier to see any text on the slide and for anyone with anything like dyslexia it can make it a LOOOOTTTTT harder to read any text.


  2. JimmyBean says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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