Are corporate presentations worthless?

August 3, 2012

Recently, I ran some training for the UK division of a multi-national company. The participants were all senior business development managers. During the training each of the participants had to gave a presentation to a pre-defined audience, for example one had to give a company overview to the CEO and board members of a prospective customer; another had to present to the CTO and technical team; others gave their presentations to the CFO, or a project team.

While the standard of speaking was very good, as you might expect for such experienced managers, there was one negative aspect across the all the presentations. Everyone was using PowerPoint slides from a corporate set.  While not all presentations were the same, the same company introduction slides kept cropping up in everyone’s presentations.

These slides contained a lot of text and were very information rich. To their credit the presenters were not slavishly going through each slide bit by bit but were highlighting the parts that fitted in with the theme of their presentations.  When I asked why they were using slides with so much redundant information on them, I was told that they were the corporate slides, produced by HQ and that everyone was expected to use these slides. The other excuse was that they didn’t have the time to create their own slides.

In my mind this raises the question “Are corporate presentation worthless?”

The problem with corporate presentation slides stem from the remoteness of the marketing people who create them. They sit in their ivory towers and create presentations about their organisation, their products, services and solutions. They know all about the benefits and the USP’s  (unique selling propositions) of their solutions, but very little about individual prospect’s needs and wants. They try to create a one size fits all presentation which covers everything a prospect may want to know about their company.

In addition, central departments like to spell things out, they feel they have to cater for the lowest common denominator, i.e. the fresh-faced new sales recruit who knows very little about the company and its products. The result is that they tend to use more text, to ensure the correct message is given during the presentation.   In essence, they like to spell everything out, literally.

Inevitably, any such corporate presentation becomes very organisation centric, as the person who created it knows a lot about the organisation but very little about individual customers.

Good presentations are about the audience not about the presenter.  By using the corporate slides, in my example, the audience were suffering from information overload, which detracted from what the speaker was saying. In my view the presenters would have been far better off, radically simplifying each of the slides that they used, to ensure they were only depicting the point being made at that part of the presentation.

Given that corporate slides shows are always likely to be more about the corporation than the customers, and will by definition tend to be very generic, are they still worth creating?

I would value your feed back on this question.

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Preparing a Presentation

January 24, 2012

When you are under pressure at work it can be difficult to allocate the appropriate amount of time to preparing a presentation that you have been asked to give. But as we all know “failing to plan is planning to fail” and this has never be more true when it comes to giving a presentation.

There are three main parts to preparing a presentation:

  • Deciding what to say.
  • Deciding how to say it.
  • Preparing yourself to say it.

What to say

Let’s start with “Deciding what to say”, this is really all about your audience and what you would like them to do. What do you want your presentation to achieve? What is your objective? How will you know if you have achieved your objective? You need to be really clear on what your aim is, so take some time at the start to work out why you are giving the presentation and what you want it to achieve. If you can write this down in one or two sentences you will have a good foundation for your presentation.

Having decided your objective, then start thinking about your audience. Who are they? Why are they coming to listen to you? What do they know about the topic already? What is it that they want or need to hear? The more you can find out about your audience the more accurately you can pitch your presentation to meet their needs and desires. When addressing a mixed audience try to define two or three different segments of your audience and create two or three alternative scenarios.

Having established why and who, it is then time to start thinking and researching what it is your going to say. Having a structure to fit the points you want to make in to is very helpful. One structure I have used successfully many times is to start by outlining the problems with the current way of doing something and the describing a vision of success, a picture of how it could be if things were different. Then go one to describe how this vision could be attained, summarizing all the benefits of the approach, inviting the audience to join you in achieving this vision which you can then restate at the end of the presentation. Don’t be tempted to add in everything that you can think of, maintain a structure. Three key points backed up by evidence or anecdotes is usually sufficient for most presentations.

It is at this point that many people make the mistake of opening PowerPoint and creating lists of slides titles and bullet points. While bullet points may be a useful way to document the points you wish to make in a speech, they do not make good visual aids.

How to Say it

Having pulled all you material together and being familiar with the main point you wish to get across, you can now turn to planning how you are going to convey this information. Are you going to stand and talk? Will you have any props to help get the message across? Will you use visual aids and if so what will they be? Are you going to tell a story? How will you involve your audience? Will you ask them questions?

Rehearse your presentation by saying it out loud. Sitting at your desk clicking though a set of slides is no way to rehearse a presentation. You need to say it out loud to become familiar with your material and to become accustomed to saying the words. By rehearsing a presentation out loud you can develop the phraseology which will work best in the spoken form, rather than the more formal style of language we use when we are writing. A single rehearsal will improve your speech by up to 80%.

You don’t need to have anyone listening to you especially the first time through, although it can help to tape record or video record your presentation rehearsal so that you get a clear view of what you actually sound and look like. I often turn off the radio and rehearse a presentation in the car on the way to the location. It is a great way to rehearse and the presentation and make sure you know what you are going to say, plus it is fresh in your mind when you arrive.

Preparing to say it

Finally, you need to put yourself in the right frame of mind for giving a presentation. If you do not feel confident you need to address it. Tell yourself that being nervous is OK, in fact, if it is an important presentation it is perfectly normal to feel nervous, you just want to recognise that you are nervous and put it to one side, while you get on with the job in hand.

Use confident boosting techniques like telling your self that you are “Poised, prepared, persuasive, positive and powerful “ and that you feel, “composed, confident, convincing, commanding and compelling”.

To counteract a dry mouth, suck a mint beforehand. Use breathing techniques to ensure there is sufficient oxygen in your bloodstream or take some gentle exercise beforehand. Wear clothes that make you feel good. Remember, the facts will only take your audience so far, it is your passion for the subject and your emotion that will lift your presentation to new heights.

Make sure you arrive at the venue, nice and early, so that you have time to get set up and familiarise your self with the surroundings, before your audience arrive. Work out where you are going to put any notes, or props you intend using and think through how any equipment you are going to use will work. Check any pens have ink in them, check your laptop to ensure the screen save, or instant messaging won’t pop up in the middle of your presentation and make sure your mobile is on silent.

Don’t rely on an off the cuff presentation, just because you know about the topic doesn’t mean you can effortlessly give a quality presentation, it takes time, it takes thought and it takes practise.


Dire State of Presentation Skills

December 1, 2009

In 2009 Young Markets has been running a survey on the way people give presentations. Given all the publicity and material available on the internet about how to give an Effective presentation,  the message doesn’t appear to be getting through.

An astounding 73% of people rely on their slides to remind them what to say next with 83% revealing a whole side of bullet points at one time.

The vast majority of people are still using their slides as handouts, either before or after their talk.

With presentations techniques such as these being so common it is no wonder that the vast majority of audiences suffer from “death by PowerPoint” and that presentations are boring people to death.

If you are one of the majority of people who rely on your bullet point slides during a presentation, you are probably thinking what is so wrong with that. After all, it is what most people do. I’ll let you in to a secret; that is exactly what I used to do as well. But now I have seen the error of my ways, I now realise how boring it makes it for your audience.

I am not one of the anti-PowerPoint brigade or even anti-Prezi  who believes you should give a presentation without any slides. I believe that slides add value to a presentation and can help to make a presentation memorable and motivational, but only if they are used in the right way.

So what is so bad about relying on your slides to remind you of the key points, what is so bad about having a number of bullet points on the screen and what is so bad about using copies of your slides as handouts?

Essentially, it all boils down to one thing. Using slides in this way will let your audience get ahead of you. The slides will tell them what you are going to talk about next.  And as everyone knows there is no point listening to someone when you already know what they are about to say.

Speaker notes, visual aids and handouts are three completely separate things with completely different objectives. Your speaker notes are to remind you what to say. Your visual aids should be designed to accompany your words and create strong mental images for people to remember.  And your  handouts need to be stand alone documents  that cover not just the slides but what you said as well. By planning to use the slides as speaker notes you tell the audience what you are about to say. By using the slides as handouts you tend to overfill the slides so they still make complete sense even without your words. Both of these things will ruin a presentation.

Most of the time, the bullet points on a slide make excellent speaker notes, so use them as that and think up new visuals for the slides that you will share with your audience. The write down your talk and put it along side the slides in a PDF document which you can have as a handout, to give to people after your presentation.

If you are confronted with a pre-written corporate presentation that you have to use, which has lots of bullet points in it, then my advice is to use bullet point reveal facilities of the presentation software to display the bullets one at a time, and then talk about each topic and bring the bullet point up after you have talked about it. This has the affect of reinforcing what you have just said, rather than pre-announcing it and making your words superfluous.

Just because the majority of other people do it, doesn’t make it right. Stop, relying on your slides, stop displaying bullet point text and stop giving copies of your slides as handouts. Your audiences will thank you for it.

To find out more about how to structure and give an Effective Business Presentation visit my presentation training website  or book a place on one of my presentation courses.


Who needs presentation training?

October 8, 2009

Why would anyone want or need to go on a course about how to stand and talk. After all, we can all stand up and talk already, can’t we?

We don’t need training on how to talk. And as for what to say, how can a trainer who has little or no experience of your company and your job know what to say better than you do?

Anyway, training courses are an expensive luxury, which we can’t afford in the current economic climate. Anyone who needs to learn how to give a business presentation can just watch how other people in the company do it.

We don’t need presentation training!

 

But there again if you just keep doing what you have always done, nothing will change, your success rate will at best remain the same and in these difficult times when competition for business is ever harder you are more likely to lose ground to your competitors.

 

Let’s approach this from a different angle. How many presentations have you sat through?  

Probably hundreds ?

 

How many of them do you remember?

Probably less then 10% ?

 And that includes all the ones that were memorable for all the wrong reasons. The ones that went wrong. The really boring ones. The ones where the presenter made a fool of him or her self.

 

How many really good, inspiring presentations do you remember?

Less than a handful?

That is not a very good percentage success rate, is it?

 

How effective are the presentations in your company?

Do you want your next presentation to be instantly forgotten, or remembered for all the wrong reasons?

No? 

 

Then maybe you could benefit by going on a presentation skills training course. And so could many of your colleagues. Brush up your skills, eradicate the bad habits and make your talks more effective.

 

What are you likely to learn on a Young Markets presentation skills course?

We start by understanding what you would like to improve, which particular aspects of your presentations you would like to be different in the future and what types and styles of presentation you are likely to give.

Then we discuss the 5 most important aspects of giving a presentation, for which we have an acronym OSRAM, which stands for Objective, Speaker, Room, Audience, Message.

Most of the morning is then spent investigating the traits of a good speaker, including:

  • How to overcome any nervous anxiety and use it to your advantage
  • How to remember the key elements and structure of your presentation
  • Why it ain’t what you say that is important, but how you say it.

In the afternoon, we turn our attention to your message, including:

  • The structure for the ideal presentation
  • How to influence everyone in the room and motivate them into taking action
  • How to make your presentation memorable, for all the right reasons

You will discover how to handle questions and awkward audience members, as well as what your visual aids should and shouldn’t contain and a myriad of other hints and tips.

We’ll highlight a few bad habits people can pick up that are presentation killers. Things like relying on your slides to remind you of what to talk about, having too many bullet points and filtering out the emotion in an effort to hide the nerves.

During the day, everyone delivers two short presentations and is given a video of their performance.

By the end of our 1 day course you will be more confident and much better prepared to deliver influential presentations that will be remembered and acted upon by your future audiences.

After all there is more to giving an effective business presentation that just standing up and talking. See details of our upcoming courses here.


Why Corporate Presentations fail

September 24, 2009

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.


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